Skip to main content
Internet Archive's 25th Anniversary Logo

Full text of "Fighting for a living : [electronic resource] comparative history of military labour 1500-2000"

See other formats



^ Vvi 


; ■ V \^ ■ 

\ ly # r ' " * s 

Fighting for a Living 

A Comparative History of 
Military Labour 1500-2000 

Edited by 


Fighting for a Living 

Work Around the Globe: Historical 
Comparisons and Connections 

Open Access Book Series of the International Institute of 
Social History (IISH) 

Most human beings work, and growing numbers are exposed to labour markets. 
These markets are increasingly globally competitive and cause both capital and 
labour to move around the world. In search of the cheapest labour, industries 
and service-based enterprises move from West to East and South, but also, for 
example, westwards from China's east coast. People move from areas with few 
employment opportunities to urban and industrial hubs, both between and 
within continents. However, labour relations have been shifting already for 
centuries, labour migrations go back far in time, and changing labour relations 
cannot be comprehended without history. Therefore, understanding these 
developments and their consequences in the world of work and labour relations 
requires sound historical research, based on the experiences of different groups of 
workers in different parts of the world at different moments in time, throughout 
human history. 

The research and publications department of the International Institute of Social 
History (IISH) has taken on a leading role in research and publishing on the 
global history of labour relations. In the context of Global Labour History, three 
central research questions have been defined: (1) What labour relations have 
emerged in parallel with the rise and advance of market economies? (2) How 
can their incidence (and consequently the transition from one labour relation to 
another) be explained, and are these worldwide transitions interlinked? (3) What 
are the social, economic, political, and cultural consequences of their changing 
incidence, and how do they relate to forms of individual and collective agency 
among workers? These three questions are interconnected in time, but also in 
space. Recent comparative Global Labour History research demonstrates that 
shifts in one part of the globe have always been linked to shifts in other parts. 

Series editor: Jan Lucassen, International Institute of Social History, Amsterdam 
Editorial Board: Ulbe Bosma, Karin Hofmeester, Gijs Kessler, International 
Institute of Social History, Amsterdam 

Executive editor: Aad Blok, International Institute of Social History, Amsterdam 

Fighting for a Living 

A Comparative History of Military Labour 

Edited by 
Erik-Jan Zurcher 

Amsterdam University Press 

Cover illustration: 'A Turkish Janissary', c. 1480, Gentile Bellini (Venetian, c. 1429-1507) 
© The British Museum Company Limited 

Cover design: Studio Jan de Boer, Amsterdam 
Layout: Crius Group, Hulshout 

Amsterdam University Press English-language titles are distributed in the US and Canada by 
the University of Chicago Press. 

ISBN 9789089644527 
e-ISBN 9 7 8 9 0 485i725i(pdf) 
e-ISBN 978 90 4851 726 8 (ePub) 
NUR 685 / 696 

Creative Commons License CC BY NC ND 

© Erik-Jan Ziircher / Amsterdam University Press, Amsterdam 2013 

Some rights reserved. Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, any part of 
this book may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, 
in any form or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise). 

In memory of Gilles Veinstein (1945-2013) 


Preface 9 

Introduction 11 
Understanding changes in military recruitment and employment 

Erik-Jan Ziircher 

Military labor in China, c. 1500 43 
David M. Robinson 

From the mamluks to the mansabdars 81 
A social history of military service in South Asia, c. 1500 to c. 1650 
Kaushik Roy 

On the Ottoman janissaries (fourteenth-nineteenth centuries) 115 
Gilles Veinstein 

Soldiers in Western Europe, c. 1500-1790 135 
Frank Tallett 

The Scottish mercenary as a migrant labourer in Europe, 1550-1650 169 
James Miller 

Change and continuity in mercenary armies: Central Europe, 1650-1750 201 
Michael Sikora 

Peasants fighting for a living in early modern North India 243 

"True to their salt" 267 
Mechanisms for recruiting and managing military labour in the 
army of the East India Company during the Carnatic Wars in India 
Robert Johnson 

"The scum of every county, the refuse of mankind" 
Recruiting the British Army in the eighteenth century 
Peter Way 


Mobilization of warrior populations in the Ottoman context, 

Virginia H. Aksan 


Military employment in Qing dynasty China 353 
Christine Moll-Murata and Ulrica Theobald 

Military service and the Russian social order, 1649-1861 393 

Elise Kimerling Wirtschafter 

The French army, 1789-1914 419 
Volunteers, pressed soldiers, and conscripts 
Thomas Hippler 

The Dutch army in transition 447 
From all-volunteer force to cadre-militia army, 1795-1830 
Herman Amersfoort 

The draft and draftees in Italy, 1861-1914 479 

Marco Rovinello 

Nation-building, war experiences, and European models 519 
The rejection of conscription in Britain 
Jorn Leonhard 

Mobilizing military labor in the age of total war 547 
Ottoman conscription before and during the Great War 

Soldiering as work 581 
The all-volunteer force in the United States 
Beth Bailey 

Private contractors in war from the 1990s to the present 613 

A review essay 
S. Yelda Kay a 

Collective bibliography 639 

Notes on contributors 



He's five-foot-two, and he's six-feet-four, 
He fights with missiles and with spears. 
He's all of thirty-one, and he's only seventeen, 
He's been a soldier for a thousand years. 

He's the one who gives his body 

As a weapon of the war, 

And without him all this killing can't go on. 

- Buffy Sainte-Marie, "Universal Soldier" (1964) 

This pioneering volume is a remarkable international attempt to bridge 
the gap between military history and labour history, by exploring the 
labour of the military as a subject in its own right. During 2009-2012, a 
team of twenty researchers from nine countries led by Erik-Jan Ziircher 
systematically reconstructed the similarities and differences between 
military recruitment and employment systems in Asia and Europe from 
the sixteenth century onwards. Their comparative approach has made 
it possible to discover general historical patterns. In turn, these patterns 
suggest causal relationships which could, should, and no doubt will be the 
subject of more in-depth studies in the future. 

Until now, military historians and labour historians inhabited separate 
worlds. Military historians were concerned with wars, military doctrines, 
arms technology, campaign logistics, and similar issues. For them, soldiers 
usually enter into the picture as the executors of commands, and, in the 
narrative of military historians, what decides the outcome of battles are the 
numbers, skills, weaponry and morale of the combatants. Labour historians 
by contrast regard soldiers above all as the oppressors of labour resistance, 
who sometimes - in revolutionary situations - change sides and join the 
workers. According to many labour historians, what soldiers do as soldiers is 
not "work" - since work is constructive, not destructive - but instead a kind 
of "anti-work". The military are indeed conventionally excluded from "the 
labour force", and therefore they are not counted in labour force statistics. 

The idea that what soldiers do "cannot be work" is a moralistic prejudice, 
however. Work is the purposeful production of useful objects or services. 
Thus, work is a purposive activity, and work creates objects or services that 
are useful to the people for whom the work is done. That makes participation 


in military activities just as much a labour process as any other, even if 
many civilians do not regard it as a "useful activity" and have no use for it. 

Soldiers' work can involve all kinds of different jobs. Of course, the 
subjugation and killing of people and the destruction of enemy positions 
are "core tasks", but the military can also perform guard duties, dig ditches, 
look after the transport of goods and messages, and construct buildings, 
roads, canals, and dams. What most soldiers do in army life obviously differs 
from what labourers do in a factory, or nurses in a hospital. Yet, in real life, 
soldiers are workers just as much as labourers and nurses are. Significantly, 
the English word "mercenary" is derived from the Latin mercenarius, which 
literally meant no more than "a hireling", that is, someone who is paid for 
his work (in Latin, merx = commodity). 

In their team effort, the authors of this volume have made a great 
contribution to a new kind of historiography, one that integrates differ- 
ent subdisciplines, and incorporates local findings in a globally oriented 
approach. The readers of this book have in their hands a path-breaking 
collection of essays which, I am sure, will inspire historical research about 
military labour for many years to come. 

Marcel van der Linden 
Amsterdam, March 2013 


Understanding changes in military recruitment and 
employment worldwide 

Erik-Jan Zurcher 

For a long time, labour historians have not regarded the activities of soldiers 
as work. Work was defined as an activity yielding surplus value and the 
efforts of soldiers were seen as being essentially destructive rather than 
productive. This assumption that military work is necessarily destructive 
and does not produce surplus value is debatable for at least two reasons. 
The first is that soldiers everywhere spend far more time in barracks than 
on campaign and, while they are garrisoned, they have very often been 
employed as cheap labour in agriculture or in building works and road 
repair. Many of the greatest infrastructural works in countries as far apart 
as France and China - city walls, dikes, canals - would never have been 
realized except for the massive use of military manpower. Soldiers have 
frequently been employed in the wake of natural disasters, in which case 
their labour should be regarded as similar to that of nurses and ambulance 
drivers. The second, more profound reason is that, as Peter Way has argued, 
the end result of warfare, if successful, is that surplus value for states and 
their elites is created through territorial gain or economic advantage. 1 

Whatever the merits of the argument, the result of the view that what 
a soldier does is not work has been that military labour has not become 
the object of research in the same way as the labour of, for instance, dock- 
workers, textile workers, miners, or agricultural workers. 2 One of the very 
first people to resist this approach was Jan Lucassen of the International 
Institute of Social History (IISH). As early as 1994, he considered the "pro- 
letarian experience" of mercenaries in early modern Europe. 3 That was a 
pioneering effort, because it is only very recently that the topic of military 
labour has begun to receive attention from social historians. In 2003, Bruce 

1 Following Marx, Peter Way closely identifies the growth of capitalism and the modern state 
with warfare, particularly, colonial warfare. See Way, "Klassenkrieg". 

2 Chris Tilly and Charles Tilly express this point of view in their book Work Under Capitalism, 
p. 23: "To be sure, not all efforts qualify as work; purely destructive, expressive, or consumptive 
acts lie outside the bound; in so far as they reduce transferable use value, we might think of 
them as antiwork." 

3 Lucassen, "The Other Proletarians", p. 185. 



Scates published "The Price of War: Labour Historians Confront Military 
History", in the Australian journal Labour History, and this journal has 
since continued to show an interest in the subject with the publications 
of Nathan Wise. 4 However, the scope of the Australian publications had 
been limited in time and space (mainly the Australian volunteer army 
of the First World War). In 2006, German historical anthropologist Alf 
Liidtke published a text with a broader comparative scope - "War as Work: 
Aspects of Soldiering in 20th Century War" - which was, however, as the 
title implies, limited to the recent past. In 2011, the journal International 
Labor and Working-Class History devoted a special feature to "Labor and 
the Military", which contained six very interesting articles on the subject. 
The approach, however, is different from ours in that the military (or the 
army) and labour, both in the sense of work and in that of the workforce, 
are seen as two separate elements in the equation, the relation between 
which is studied, whereas in the context of Fighting for a Living questions 
are asked about military service itself as a form of labour. 5 In our view, 
soldiers are not a separate category of people who sometimes fulfil the role 
of workers; they are workers. 

Another recent initiative that indicates a growing interest in the subject 
was a conference at Duke University in April 2011 entitled "Beyond the Bat- 
tlefield: The Labor of Military Service in Latin America and the Caribbean", 
which treats some of the same issues in a regional context. But once more, 
the papers at this conference largely concentrated on the non-military, or at 
least non-martial, roles played by soldiers in the societies and economies of 
the region and thus seemed to understand labour as something essentially 
outside the core business of soldiering. 

I became more and more aware of the degree to which a soldier's life itself 
can be understood in terms of labour when I did empirical research in the 
1990s on the everyday realities of Ottoman soldiers' lives during the First 
World War. 6 The paths of Jan Lucassen and myself converged and in 1999 we 
published "Conscription as Military Labour: The Historical Context". Over 
the years, my specialist interest in the history of conscription in the Middle 
East convinced me that there was a need to pursue more wide-ranging 

4 Wise, "The Lost Labour Force", '"In Military Parlance, I Suppose We Were Mutineers'". 

5 One article that does strike at the heart of the discussions in Fighting for a Living is the 
contribution by Jennifer Mittelstadt, "The Army Is a Service, Not a Job", in the special feature 
edited by Joshua B. Freeman and Geoffrey Field. 

6 Ziircher, "Between Death and Desertion", "The Ottoman Conscription System in Theory 
and Practice", "Ottoman Labour Battalions in World War I", "Hizmet Etmeyi Baska Bicjmlerle 



research into the circumstances which have produced starkly different 
systems of recruiting and employing soldiers in different parts of the globe, 
as well as to analyse the social and political implications that the different 
systems have had in a number of states and societies. When I moved to 
the IISH in 2008, this idea was received enthusiastically by the research 
department of the institute and, as a consequence, the project Fighting for a 
Living was started in 2009, of which this book is the result. It concentrated 
on land armies in Europe, the Middle East, India, and China in the period 
1500-2000 because the project was limited explicitly to state armies in the 
context of advanced state formation. That means that important areas and 
categories were not included - Latin America, Africa and Australasia - but 
also non-state forces (guerrilla movements, slave or peasant rebel armies). 
That we also excluded the navy may beseenasa serious omission, but this 
is because we recognized that navies, which in many respects are very 
different from land armies in their skill levels, in their traditions, and in 
their recruitment, offer a hugely interesting field for comparative research 
on military labour in their own right. We have decided to leave that topic 
to a possible separate project. 7 

Of course, it might be argued that "the state" in a sense is a modern 
concept and that to use it to categorize pre-modern phenomena is anach- 
ronistic. Doubtless, neither the sixteenth-century Landsknecht nor the 
nineteenth-century Swiss mercenary 8 would see himself as fighting for 
a "state". They were members of corporate bodies whose identities were 
to a large extent formed in the field, and they were hired by kings. Early 
twentieth-century Ottoman soldiers certainly saw themselves as defending 
their ruler and their religion, but that does not have to prevent us, as twenty- 
first-century historians, from using the state as an analytical category, to 
distinguish the soldiers recruited by monarchs and republics (directly or 
indirectly) from guerrilla forces and rebel movements. 

7 Such a project could build on the work done by maritime and labour historians in the 
mid-1990s, which has resulted in the volume of conference proceedings edited by Van Royen, 
Bruijn, andLucassen, Those Emblems of Hell? Thisbookis not exclusively about navies, however. 
It is primarily about commercial shipping. 

8 The term "mercenary" over time has acquired very negative connotations, especially since 
the advent of the nation-state, when defending the fatherland came to be denoted as both a 
duty and a privilege of citizens. Throughout this book, however, we use it without expressing 
any value judgement, simply to denote those soldiers who operated in a market in the sense that 
they had a choice of employers and engaged themselves at least formally on the basis of free 
will. This serves to distinguish them from those soldiers who were also paid for their services 
(and sometimes generously), but who did not operate under market conditions and had only 
one possible employer. 



If we decide to regard the work of the military as labour, one legitimate 
question to ask is, of course, whether military labour is in any fundamental 
sense different from other forms of labour. One could argue that one aspect 
of military work is unique in that it explicitly transcends humankind's 
greatest taboo: killing members of the same species. Even if soldiers spend 
far more time in barracks or on the march than in actual battles, the fact 
that the ultimate purpose of an army is to fight and kill makes it different 
- more so, certainly, than the fact that there is risk involved, as for most 
people in most societies exposure to risk has been the normal condition, be 
it from violence, starvation, childbirth, or contagious disease. But whatever 
its exceptionality, ultimately an army is built on the factors of capital and 
labour just like any other industry, and it is this that makes it possible to 
analyse the activities of the soldier as just another form of work. 

Fighting for a Living has yielded twenty hugely interesting case studies 
covering four continents and five centuries and these are now presented in 
this study. The following is an attempt, based on the twenty draft chapters 
that the members of the research group have produced and the many 
thought-provoking discussions we have had, to construct a taxonomy of 
military labour relations in Europe and Asia over the previous five hundred 
years, to discern underlying patterns and make some suggestions about 
what kind of determinants influence the prevalence or demise of certain 
types of labour relations within the military. 

Huge variations 

On a phenomenological level, even when we limit ourselves to land armies 
in the service of the state, the variety of forms of military labour is almost 
endless but, to make meaningful comparisons possible, a basic classification 
has to be applied. The search for such a classification was high on the agenda 
of the research group of Fighting for a Living. 

One way of grouping the different phenomena is that employed by John 
Lynn in his seminal work on the developments of European armies. 9 Lynn 
distinguishes four basic "army styles": the "feudal army", the "aggregate con- 
tract army", the "state commission army", and the "conscript army". Central 
to his thesis is the notion that, around 1650, the aggregate contract army, 
which Lynn describes as "a force cobbled together from a small number of 
state troops, the hiring of mercenary bands, and the incorporation of private 

9 Lynn, "The Evolution of Army Style in the Modern West". 



armies raised by major aristocrats and put at the ruler's service", 10 gave way 
to a recognizably different style, that of the state commission army. The 
state commission armies that came to dominate in Europe after 1650 were 
both more national in composition and more uniform, as well as much 
bigger than the mercenary armies had been. States took upon themselves 
more of the responsibility for clothing, feeding, and equipping the troops, 
something that, among other things, led to the invention of the uniform 
itself. However, in his recent work, Lynn has recognized that in some coun- 
tries, such as the Dutch United Provinces with their small population but 
well-filled coffers, the mercenary remained very important after that date. 
In fact, the eighteenth century was the heyday of the seigneurial system, 
in which smaller German states hired out their regiments to richer, more 
powerful states in exchange for "subsidies". As is well known, the British 
fought their wars in North America partly with Hessian and Hanoverian 
regiments acquired in exchange for subsidies. 

Although the dividing line of 1650 has kept its validity, the exceptions 
show that army styles in fact rarely occur in a pure form. Like Max Weber's 
bureaucracy, they are ideal types. In reality, our research shows that armies 
were composite bodies with different army styles coexisting at the same 
time. Mercenaries continued to play a role in the state commission armies of 
the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, even if they no longer dominated 
and, as Thomas Hippler shows, the army of the ancien regime also included 
conscripted soldiers long before the formal introduction of conscription 
during the French Revolution. 

Lynn's classification is both convincing and useful as an analytical 
tool, but it has to be recognized that it is based on European history only. 
Several "army styles" that have been extremely important in Asia and the 
Middle East in the early modern period and even later therefore are not 
included. The first to come to mind is that of the "slave army". For a thousand 
years, from the early ninth century to the early nineteenth, mamluks or 
ghulams, soldiers who were bought as slaves by rulers outside their realm 
and regarded as their private possessions, were a prominent feature from 
Algiers to India. Regions as far apart as the steppes of Central Asia and 
Ethiopia exported soldier-slaves on a large scale. The janissaries of the Ot- 
toman Empire clearly belonged to the same category, slave troops, although 
they were levied within the Ottoman domains and not bought abroad. The 

10 Noted military historian John Lynn unfortunately had to withdraw from the project at an 
early stage, but he kindly supplied a written commentary that served as the basis for discussions 
in the Fighting for a Living working party. This description is taken from p. 2 of his commentary. 



second style is that of the tribal forces, which were no longer an important 
feature of warfare in early modern Europe, but remained important to the 
Ottoman, Mogul, and Chinese Empires until their demise. 

Naturally, a classification of army styles pertains to forms of military 
organization, and not to labour relations. The temptation is great to assume 
that the different army styles coincided with different forms of labour 
relation, but as the case studies in our project have shown, the two do not 
necessarily coincide. While in what we may perhaps broadly call "feudal" 
armies - that is to say, in armies raised by landlords from among their own 
retinue and dependent peasantry - one type of labour tributary relation 
seems to dominate (the one that we will call "tributary"), the studies show 
us that not only can two or more army styles coexist, in a single army style 
(for instance, a state commission army or a conscript army), different labour 
relations can coexist as well. In other words: a single type of army may 
contain very different types of labour relation. Following Lynn, Michael 
Sikora describes how the Prussian canton system was a "hybrid military or- 
ganization" with a standing army consisting partly of foreigners (designated 
as mercenaries) and a militia within one structure. Virginia Aksan in her 
chapter gives a particularly rich example. In 1708, the military population 
of Damascus consisted of local janissaries or guards, imperial janissaries 
sent from Istanbul, mercenaries paid by the governor (who themselves 
seem to have been composed of Anatolian levends, Kurdish musketeers, 
and North Africans), and the timariot (or sipahi) cavalry - a mixture of 
forces that had been around since the early fifteenth century and "army 
styles" that had developed in the seventeenth. The French army of the Third 
Republic was on paper a conscript army, in which citizens exercised their 
right and duty to defend their fatherland, but like all nineteenth-century 
conscription systems, the French one enabled its more affluent citizens 
to pay for replacements, an opportunity they availed themselves of on a 
very large scale. As most of the people who were available as replacements 
were soldiers who had served their turn but because of their long service 
in the army had little chance of a job in civil society, the conscript army 
in fact consisted to a considerable degree of veteran professionals. The 
Italian case, studied by Marco Rovinello, reflects the same reality, but in 
an extreme form: the state was quite happy that the extra income from 
bourgeois "liberations" (exemptions) allowed it to recruit veterans to beef 
up the army and, accordingly, no fewer than forty-six articles of the 1854 
regulations detailed "how enlisted people can be exonerated from service". 
In the Netherlands, too, we see the same phenomenon of volunteers re- 
engaging as substitutes after the reintroduction of conscription in 1819-1828. 



The studies in this book are about soldiers, not about officers. Everywhere 
and always, the officer corps was treated very differently from the rank and 
file and had its own set of labour relations. States have never been able to 
recruit or control armies on their own. They have always needed to rely 
on status groups (nobility, landowners, educated middle classes) for this, 
and mechanisms of negotiation rather than of coercion are typical of the 
relationship between the state and these status groups. The same seems to 
be true for cavalry forces, which only rarely seem to have been recruited 
through coercion. 

We are faced with different army styles that succeed each other but in 
part also overlap, and we also note that within a single identifiable army 
style a variety of labour relations is possible. The twenty cases studied in 
the context of the project in total yield about a hundred different forms of 
labour relation. As I shall discuss below, there are several reasons for this, 
but one of them is that, in many places, smaller forces of "experts" coexisted 
with the mass of the main army: from the European Landsknechte and 
Albanian cavalry to the Ottoman and later Portuguese artillery experts 
in the Mogul army and the French officers of Mehmed Ali Pasha's new 
Egyptian army, armies have always felt the need to employ high-skilled 
specialists for specific tasks. The seventeenth-century Swedish army of 
Gustavus Adolphus II offers a very good example of the coexistence of 
different army styles and labour relations within a single institution. In 
many ways the most modern army of its day, it rested on Europe's oldest 
conscription system, but at the same time the Swedish king was one of the 
biggest employers of mercenaries in Europe with an army, only 12 per cent 
of which consisted of native Swedes. 

Once we have learned to look at the different forms of military labour in 
terms of commonalities rather than differences, we then need to establish 
a taxonomy in which all the different forms of military employment that 
have occurred in the different areas over a period of five hundred years can 
find a place. For this we can have recourse to the basic threefold division of 
labour relations developed earlier in the IISH's Global Collaboratory on the 
History of Labour Relations 1500-2000: reciprocal labour, tributary labour, 
and commodifiedlabom. 11 Providing work within a household or community 

11 Of course, one could argue that besides the three broad categories outlined (reciprocal, 
tributary, and commodified), volunteerism should figure as a fourth variant. There are several 
reasons why we prefer to avoid this. First of all, and except for individual cases, it is almost 
impossible to get accurate information about people's motivations in joining the military. 
Representatives of the state and commanding officers may grossly misrepresent people's 
mindset. Even if the soldiers themselves are literate and write about it in ego-documents, there 



(on the basis of shared assumptions about obligations) is subsumed under 
reciprocal labour. Workers who are obliged by the polity (most often the 
state) to provide work are categorized as tributary labour. Their labour is 
owned by the polity. In the third category, commodified labour, labour 
power is acquired by the employer (the army, the state) in the marketplace. 

Our research group has tried to place the different phenomena described 
in the case studies in the taxonomy and to use the result to help answer 
the following questions: 

1 How can we explain the predominance of certain types of labour rela- 
tions, and combinations of labour relations, in certain circumstances? 

2 How can we explain the replacement of one dominant system by 

It goes without saying that the taxonomy is a tool to make fruitful com- 
parison possible and should not be forced onto historical phenomena as a 

The very empirical richness that makes military labour such an attractive 
subject to a social historian means that it is as yet too early to give a defini- 
tive answer, but in this synthesis I should like to present some preliminary 
findings that have come out of the project. The aim is not to give a complete 
overview of the cases and their relevance, but to illustrate the main findings 
of the project with examples taken from the case studies in order to give a 
sense of what is possible with this kind of comparative approach, both in 
terms of testing the usefulness of the basic taxonomy (reciprocal/tributary/ 
commodified) and in terms of finding determinants for the dominance of 
a particular system of army recruitment and employment, or the change 
from one system to another. 

is no telling how accurate this information is. It may be a rationalization or self-justification. 
Tradition, economic need, or social pressure may force people to volunteer and in some cases 
(as the US Army during the Vietnam War) volunteering may even be a stratagem to avoid being 
drafted and so get a privileged position within the army. It is not the volunteer character of 
the "all-volunteer force" of the United States introduced in 1973 that is relevant for us, but its 
all-professional nature and the fact that it can be seen as a form of free and commodified labour. 



Reciprocal, tributary and commodified labour 

To determine where a particular form of military labour should be placed 
in this taxonomy, we can look at the following variables: 

- Income (wages or fees, high or low, coin or kind, regular/irregular); 

- Duration of service (short-term contracts to lifelong employment); and 

- Legal constraints (freedom to enter or leave the system, to change 

The reciprocal form of labour relations perhaps figures least in our stud- 
ies. Nevertheless, we see references to the use of tribal forces by the Ming 
emperors in China and by the Ottoman sultans. The states of Hindustan 
often had recourse to Afghan tribal warriors. Whether the Eight Banners of 
Ch'ing China, the original Manchu tribal forces, represented reciprocal or 
tributary labour seems debatable. Perhaps one was succeeded by the other 
as the Manchu tribal chiefs acquired their new status of Chinese emperor 
and old tribal allegiances were given a place in the Chinese imperial order. 
Local militias very often were also based on reciprocity: there was a gener- 
ally recognized mutual obligation within closely knit communities to share 
the burden of defence. But when state, or "national", armies were built by 
incorporating these militias into centralized structures commanded by 
professional officers, as we see in Ming China or ancien regime France, but 
also during the American War of Independence, militias evolved into a kind 
of primitive conscription system. The gradual transformation of militias 
that were primarily a form of reciprocal labour bound up in local duties 
to protect the community, into a form of permanent duty to the state, is 
traced by Sikora to early seventeenth-century Germany. The problem is 
that the term "militia" is really too all-embracing. Clearly for any analysis 
the terminology would need to be refined to make a clear distinction 
between militia systems in which the influence of local society dominates 
and those governed by the interests of the state. Frank Tallett describes 
how first France under Louis XIV and then many German states developed 
the militia system to create a trained manpower pool that could be drafted 
into the army as the need arose. In these systems, which culminated in 
the Prussian canton system, clearly a tributary rather than a reciprocal 
relationship dominates. The roots of modern conscription clearly lie in the 
militia system of France, which already used a form of conscription with 
the attendant mechanisms of a draft and exemptions. On the other hand 
we can also argue that, at the lowest level of early conscription systems 
like those of seventeenth-century Sweden or eighteenth-century Russia, 



the fact that the local village community, which was charged with deliver- 
ing recruits under the supervision of the landed nobility, spread out the 
burden of conscription in much the same way as it shared out the use 
of common lands or the obligation of agricultural labour means that a 
degree of reciprocity - an equal sharing of burdens and benefits within 
the community - was involved. As Elise Kimerling Wirtschafter notes, 
at least until the codification of recruitment rules in 1831, the practices of 
peasants and local landlords determined the recruitment process in Russia. 
We can also note that followers of military leaders who themselves had 
a contractual relationship with the court or the state were tied to these 
leaders through bonds of kinship or patronage and that because of this their 
labour relations with their commanders were of a reciprocal nature even if 
this relationship was itself part of a larger system in which other types of 
labour relation (the free commodified labour of the mercenary) dominated. 
The Scottish mercenaries quite often seem to fall into this category, but, 
as Herman Amersfoort notes, Swiss mercenaries in early modern Europe 
often had kinship ties with their recruiters as well. As all of these examples 
demonstrate, reciprocity should not be confused with equality. 

The large majority of military labour relations and recruitment prac- 
tices surveyed in our project fall into one of the other two categories of 
the IISH Collaboratory on the History of Labour Relations: tributary or 
commodified. Tributary labour occurs when the official position of the 
state is that serving in the military is an obligation that can be legally 
imposed and that is essentially interchangeable with the categories of 
tax and corvee - other obligations imposed by the state. This concept is 
usually well understood by the populations as is evident from the name 
given in France to conscription - the "blood tax". The precise form that 
the tributary labour relationship takes can vary from legal enslavement 
(as in the Ottoman devsirme) to levies for specific campaigns, hereditary 
obligations (as in the case of the Ming where households were obliged to 
provide one member of the household for military service instead of corvee 
or tax obligations) and early and modern forms of conscription. In levies 
and early forms of conscription the obligation is typically imposed on a 
community (the "People's Stalwarts" of the Ming or the peasants of the 
Russian mir) while in modern conscription systems it is essentially an 
individual duty incumbent on the citizen. Tributary and reciprocal forms 
intermingle in the case of tribes that have a tributary relationship with, 
for instance, the Mogul, Ottoman or Ming Empire, but that mobilize their 
own tribal warriors on the basis of reciprocity. 



The second quite common category is that of commodified labour. This 
seems to be the category into which both the aggregate contract army 
and the state commission army of Lynn's classification fall. Typical for 
these categories is that there is a contractual relationship for a limited 
time between the court or state on the one hand and the military on the 
other. Both the modern volunteer army (like the all-volunteer force of the 
United States studied by Beth Bailey) and the contractors operating in Iraq 
or Afghanistan, on whom Yelda Kaya reports, fall into this category as well. 

A complicating factor is that different types of labour relationships 
sometimes figure on different levels of a single system. In analogy to food 
chains or commodity chains, one could perhaps speak about "recruitment 
chains". An early modern European state may contract a mercenary colonel, 
who will then contract with officers, often from the nobility, who will 
bring to the army peasants from their feudal estates, who have a tributary 
relationship with their lord. The fact that early modern states, whether 
European, Middle Eastern, or Indian, as a rule relied on the landlords or 
notables to execute levies on a local level opened the door to all kinds of 
combinations of reciprocal and tributary systems, with the local notables 
and officials sometimes becoming military contractors. In the Ottoman 
army of the nineteenth century and right up until the First World War, Kurd- 
ish tribal chiefs were given officer rank and placed in the army hierarchy, 
but it proved impossible to impose regular army discipline on the Kurdish 
units commanded by these officers, because the rank and file recognized 
only tribal allegiance, not the hierarchy of the army. Theirs was a reciprocal 
mini-system within a tributary (because conscription-based) whole of the 
Ottoman army, with free commodified labour (the officers) at the top. A 
particularly complex case is that of the Soldatenhandel discussed by Tallett 
and Lynn. The soldiers hired out by, for instance, the state of Hesse-Cassel 
to the British crown, were hired and had no interest in the British cause, 
and in that sense and on that level they were mercenaries; but, one level 
down, they had in most cases been recruited by their own state through 
a form of coercion, be it a cantonal militia system or impressment. If they 
were "volunteers", it was often in the form of indentured labour to pay off 
family debts. Robert Johnson gives the example of the native soldiers of the 
East India Company Army, who enlisted as volunteers, but who at the same 
time were offered to the army by the heads of their families, who expected 
these family members to serve out of tradition (and undoubtedly to add to 
the family income or at least save having to feed an extra mouth). This is 
a case of a commodified labour relation on top of a tributary or possibly 
even reciprocal one. 



In order to create a basis for comparative analysis of all these forms of 
military labour relations, we need to find a common language to describe 
the phenomena, one that is not bound up exclusively in the historical 
development of one of the regions studied. In other words: rather than 
busy ourselves overmuch with the question of whether the timar system 
of the Ottoman Empire or the mansabdari system in Mogul India is a form 
of feudalism (which is, after all, a term from European social history), we 
should recognize that for hundreds of years states have been in need of 
a form of military service in which soldiers, mostly relatively expensive 
mounted warriors, were remunerated with land or the usufruct of land in 
exchange for exclusive service to one court or state. 

Pay and labour relations 

The question of pay does not in itself determine in which category (tributary 
or commodified) the different forms of military labour should be placed, 
although it can be an indicator: the porters recruited by the Ch'ing army 
from native tribes were not paid when they carried foodstuffs for their 
chieftain, because their work was considered corvee, but they were paid 
when employed directly by the state, so the very same work was tributary in 
one context and commodified in the other. It is true that defining military 
service as a duty analogous to the payment of taxes allows the state to 
escape the need to compete in the labour market and therefore to offer 
competitive wages, but most troops in tributary systems were in fact paid. 
The Chinese Empire, for example, did pay its garrison troops during the 
Ming era, even if these troops were made up of members of hereditary 
military households that were obliged to produce soldiers, and the Ot- 
tomans paid their janissary troops handsomely, even if legally they were 
the sultan's slaves and the members of the corps had originally been levied 
as a form of tax-in-kind in Christian Balkan villages. 

On the other hand, mercenaries and state-commissioned armies - 
examples of commodified labour - were often paid badly. Mercenaries 
could be compensated by giving them the right to pillage (about which 
more later) but once armies grew in size and permanence (something that 
seems to have happened in China five hundred years before it happened 
in seventeenth-century Europe), states were forced to allow soldiers to pay 
their way (and earn a living), either by doing non-military labour for the 
state (road repair being a popular option all over the world) or by producing 
goods for the market. Otherwise, these mass armies would simply have been 



unaffordable. Here the Russian example is very clear. The soldiers of the 
Russian army were nominally full-time soldiers, but they were allowed to 
do productive work and even benefit from their own workshops and farms 
while they were garrisoned. The tributary labour of the soldiers thus became 
partly commodified. Standing armies, such as state-commissioned armies 
in early modern Europe, the Ottoman janissary garrisons, or the military 
households of the Ming, could (and in fact had to) reduce their costs by 
allowing soldiers to become part-time producers. The garrison troops of the 
Ming military households spent most of their time in agricultural labour, 
not on military duties and half of the grain they raised in the fields had to 
be handed over to the local garrison to cover the expenses of the troops. 
Janissaries very often became co-owners of shops in the bazaar in cities 
such as Istanbul, Damascus, Aleppo, or Cairo and, as Gilles Veinstein notes, 
this was not some form of "degeneration" of the corps in the seventeenth or 
eighteenth century: it had always been part of the system. Problems arose 
only when the janissaries became primarily involved in non-military trades. 

If it is true that many soldiers in standing armies were part-time agricul- 
turalists or artisans, the reverse is also true: peasants and artisans could 
become part-time or short-term soldiers. Dirk Kolff in his description of the 
north Indian labour market makes the point that we should primarily look 
at soldiering as part of the survival strategy of families and village com- 
munities. Peasants could turn into weavers or soldiers as the opportunity 
arose, and making use of the full range of opportunities was a sensible living 
strategy for families. For this reason, the Hindustani villagers equipped 
themselves with firearms on a massive scale, much as they would acquire 
or make looms or hoes. It is very likely that a similar logic holds true for the 
communities that delivered levends to the Ottoman army and for villages 
in south-western Germany that provided Landsknechte. Spreading the risk 
is an essential strategy for peasant communities, and seasonal soldiering 
could compensate for a bad harvest. 

Forms of remuneration 

Basically, the state has three options in the way it remunerates its soldiers: 
through the apportioning or the usufruct of land; through cash payment or 
payment in moveable goods; or through granting rights, notably the right 
to pillage. The granting of land or usufruct was always a popular option for 
cash-strapped states. It had clear advantages for societies with low levels of 
monetization, and it seems to have been the preferred option for relatively 



expensive cavalry forces and commanding officers in medieval Europe as 
well as in India and the Middle East in the early modern period. Generally 
the rank and file were paid in cash or kind, but both in Europe (Cossacks, 
Croats on the Austrian military border) and in China (Banner troops) we 
see the phenomenon of troops settled on the borders as colonists, who were 
given land in the area they settled. 

Both copper and silver played an important role in systems based on cash 
payments. Where soldiers were paid on a weekly or monthly basis, copper 
coin seems to have been used frequently, while silver was preferred when 
larger sums were involved, as for signing bonuses or payments of arrears. 
In the Chinese army, soldiers were paid in copper when in their garrisons, 
but in silver when on campaign, as carrying large amounts of copper coin 
would have been too burdensome. 

Generally, cash payment became more widespread after the flow of silver 
from the Spanish Americas started, but it was primarily an attractive option 
for states with a high degree of centralization and huge powers of extraction 
(the Chinese Empire being in a class of its own in this respect) or states with 
highly developed credit and banking systems like the Italian city-states, 
the Dutch Republic, or Britain. Spain and Japan were in an exceptional 
position in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, because their direct 
access to rich silver stocks gave them a unique ability to raise troops for 
cash. For most early modern European states, however, but also for the 
Ottoman Empire, raising the cash for the aggregate contract armies of the 
sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries and for the expanding armies of 
the later seventeenth and eighteenth centuries was, of course, notoriously 
difficult. One way of overcoming the problem was by allowing soldiers to 
raise their income by granting them the right to pillage. As both Lynn and 
Tallett show, for the mercenaries in the armies of the Thirty Years War this 
source of income was far more important than their nominal wage, and 
Tallett clearly has a point when he says that this makes the soldier less a 
wage-earner than a petty entrepreneur. While this kind of remuneration 
seems to have lost its importance in Europe from the mid-seventeenth 
century onwards as states grew stronger and increased their ability to raise 
taxes (as Charles Tilly has famously argued), it continued in other areas. As 
Mehmet Besikci shows, the Ottoman Empire in 1914 gave volunteer bands 
the right to collect "donations" from the local population, acting as a kind 
of de facto tax collector. 

In addition to regular pay, there are many examples of bonus and incen- 
tive systems in the form of rewards for valour in battle, for the number of 
enemies killed, for signing up, or for extending one's service. Aksan quotes 



the memoirs of an Ottoman soldier of the early nineteenth century, who 
confesses to cutting off the heads of unsuspecting Christian villagers with 
the intention of handing them in as proof of the number of enemies he had 
killed. When he then meets a company of janissaries, the first thing they do 
is to rob him of his heads. The incentive, both for him and for the janissaries, 
is not bloodthirstiness or fanaticism, but simple material gain - the heads 
represent a source of extra income in the form of a bonus. Signing bonuses 
were a double-edged sword for the recruiters, however. On the one hand, 
the immediate attraction of an up-front payment in cash was hard to resist 
for many poor peasants or casual labourers in the towns, so they were very 
effective. On the other hand, the cash in hand gave recruits the means of 
survival (albeit a for a limited period), and deserting immediately after the 
receipt of the bonus seems to have been a common strategy for recruits the 
world over. Signing bonuses were expensive for the state or its recruiters 
and, as Sikora points out, imposing military service as a duty (in other words, 
turning it into tributary labour), for instance, in the form of state-controlled 
militias, saved a great deal of money. 

Perhaps a distinction should be made between the right granted to 
soldiers to live off the land and exact "contributions" from the population, 
especially in enemy territory, which can be regarded as a form of regular 
income, and the right to pillage, for instance after the taking of a town, 
which, because of its unpredictable nature, can more properly be regarded 
as a bonus or incentive. 

Throughout the period studied there seem to have been huge differences 
in remuneration between officers and troops, in both Europe and Asia, 
but also between the well-trained professionals that were hired for their 
expertise (and who on the whole were much smaller in number) and large 
masses of peasant soldiers with only basic skills. Officers were not only 
much better remunerated, either in land/usufruct or cash, but in many cases 
(European and Indian mercenaries seem to be prime examples) officers 
also functioned as recruiters and were regarded, as Amersfoort says, as 
"owners" of their regiments. This allowed them to run their units as private 
enterprises and turn military service into a very profitable business. As 
Amersfoort shows, getting rid of these intermediaries, who controlled the 
military labour market, was a strong argument in favour of the establish- 
ment of cadre-militia or conscript armies in the nineteenth century. 

The professional mercenaries of early modern Europe, the Household 
Men of Ming China, and the Ottoman janissaries, with their strong cor- 
porate identity and hierarchy based on skill and experience, can perhaps 
best be compared to guild members and artisans. Landsknechte regarded 



their units as independent corporations and as a rule even elected their 
own officers without interference from any state. The soldiers of the mass 
armies raised in eighteenth-century France or Prussia, the levends of the 
Ottoman Empire, the garrison troops of the Ming, or the Green Standard 
forces of the Ch'ing can be more usefully compared with unskilled labour. 
The evidence seems to show that pay levels for this type of soldier were fairly 
consistent with wages being paid at the lower end of the civilian labour 
market, in both Europe and Asia. Where soldiers were recruited in the 
labour market, the army generally seems to have been an employer of last 
resort, as shown by the fact that recruitment generally was easier in times 
of economic crisis, or in the seasons with little agricultural work, when it 
was hard to find other jobs. The trump card of armies no doubt was the 
fact that, apart from the basic wage, they offered a degree of security in the 
form of board and lodging, however dismal it may have been. 

When discussing the remuneration of soldiers it is important to include 
the long-term effects as well as the immediate reward. Some of the most 
valuable elements of remuneration may be in the shape of future rewards 
such as upward social mobility, land, pensions or (in the modern state) 
insurance, and educational opportunities for the soldiers themselves or 
their children. This is true of civilian labour as well, of course, but armies 
have often pioneered this kind of remuneration scheme. Especially in the 
late twentieth century the cost of the non-pay elements in the total remu- 
neration of soldiers became very considerable. As Kaya writes (citingjames 
Jay Carafano), in the US Army it doubles the cost of employing a soldier. 

The duration of military service 

When we look at the practices in Europe and Asia in the past five hundred 
years, the basic distinction we see in the term of service is that between 
long-term and short-term. Long-term service seems to be associated with 
reciprocal and tributary labour relations. The most extreme form is, of 
course, military service that is in principle an engagement for the rest of 
a person's life, as was the case with the Ottoman janissaries, mamluks, 
sipahis and mansabdars, Ming household troops, and Ch'ing Eight Banner 
forces. Obligations within (reciprocal) tribal systems are also generally of 
a lifelong nature. 

Still long-term, although not lifelong, was the obligation that came with 
militia and canton systems and more generally, with the state commission 
armies in Europe and, for instance, the Green Standard Army of the Ch'ing. 



In the modern all-volunteer army, military service is defined as a career 
and therefore fundamentally seen as a long-term engagement but, as it 
is contract-based, the labour relation cannot be defined as tributary and 
long-term service cannot be enforced. 

At the opposite side of the spectrum we find the short-term contracts 
of mercenaries, tribal auxiliaries, and levies such as the Ottoman levends. 
Sometimes these were hired for a single campaign season, but more gener- 
ally the - often implicit rather than explicit - term of contract seems to 
have been until the end of the present conflict or emergency. 

One system of recruitment moved from long-term to short-term over 
time: conscription. In the older (seventeenth- and eighteenth-century) 
conscription systems, such as the Russian and the Swedish, service was for 
an indefinite term, which in practice usually meant twenty-five to thirty 
years. In the modern conscription systems introduced in the nineteenth 
century the term of service was much more limited and in general was 
lowered significantly over the course of the century. Hence, the mass 
conscript armies of the century between 1870 and 1970, with their two- to 
three-year service, formed a halfway house between the lifelong soldier 
and the soldier engaged for one single campaign that is so characteristic of 
earlier times. It has to be remembered, however, that all conscript armies 
have been built around a core of long-term professionals. 

Free or unfree? Legal constraints 

The problem with determining whether soldiers in the different armies can 
be classified as free or unfree labour is complex. Soldiers serving within 
a system of reciprocal obligations must at all times count as unfree (as 
reneging on the communal obligation usually carries a very high social 
cost), but very few soldiers in history have been legally completely free 
actors in the sense that they could terminate or change their employment 
without being subject to prosecution under criminal law. In almost every 
country, joining the army altered people's legal status. In most cases this 
restricted their freedom, but in the case of Russia the opposite was true: 
conscription turned serfs into free men (and their wives into free women), 
albeit free men subject to military discipline. As in many other fields, the 
prototypical Marxian free worker historically seems to have been a quite 
exceptional phenomenon in the world of the military. In his essay "Who Are 
the Workers?", Marcel van der Linden has argued that "there is an almost 
endless variety of producers in capitalism, and the intermediate forms 



between the different categories are fluid rather than sharply defined". 12 
He gives examples of slaves working voluntarily for wages part of their 
time, and he also points out that "free" wage-labourers have at times been 
locked up by their employers, a practice that in countries such as China or 
India is still a regular occurrence. Our research seems to confirm the truth 
of this statement. 

Members of aggregate contract armies undoubtedly come closest to the 
status of free worker. In theory they were free to choose their employer, 
which gave them some negotiating power, and their contracts were of 
limited duration, although, as James Miller notes, the actual term of service 
often seems to have been unrecorded. The premise seems to have been that 
soldiers served as long as hostilities required their presence. But even the 
mercenaries were subject to articles of war once they had signed up and 
received their bonus. According to a decree of December 1789 quoted by 
Hippler, the soldiers of the French revolutionary army would lose their civic 
rights for the duration of their (voluntary) service and even the all-volunteer 
force of the United States, which, according to Bailey, in the 1970s explicitly 
sought to redefine military service from a citizen's obligation to the state 
to just another form of labour, comparable to work in services or industry, 
subjected its soldiers to a legal regime distinct from the civilian code. The 
criminalization of breach of contract seems to be an enduring characteristic 
of military employment that sets it apart from most civilian labour relations. 

Appearances can be deceptive: the Ottoman janissaries were technically 
possessions of their sultan, but had accumulated traditional rights, which 
they guarded jealously, much like a guild. Many of the janissary mutinies 
that occurred from the seventeenth to the early nineteenth centuries 
started as "industrial actions" or pay disputes, when they interpreted 
government measures as unjustly transgressing on their acquired rights. 13 
On the other hand, soldiers who signed up of their own accord, as free 
men, for an eighteenth-century state commission army were faced with 
draconian regulations and frequent physical abuse, which in armies such 
as the Prussian could be quite as bad as what plantation slaves had to face. 

When judging conditions of service, whether in terms of pay or in terms 
of the opposition free/unfree, we should always take into account contem- 
porary conditions in society at large. Conditions of service that may seem 
unfair or even atrocious in our eyes may have looked very different to a 
Scottish day labourer, a Russian serf, or a Hindustani peasant. The status 

12 Van der Linden, "Who Are the Workers?" 

13 See Stremmelaar, "Justice and Revenge in the Ottoman Rebellion of 1703". 



of free actor in the labour market, as enjoyed by a European mercenary 
or a Rajput warrior, historically is the exception rather than the rule, and 
that is true for the military profession just as much as for society at large. 

Determinants: general considerations 

Hopefully, the preceding paragraphs have shown that it is possible to 
classify the different forms of military labour by looking at their shared 
characteristics and to place them in a taxonomy based on a distinction 
between reciprocal, tributary, and commodified labour. Taking into account 
the variables of remuneration, term of service, and legal status, we can try 
to gauge which factors influence the choice for a particular form of military 
employment on the part of the state: in other words, which were the most 
important determinants? 

All forms of military recruitment and labour represent different solutions 
to shared problems. To find the determinants, we first have to look at the 
basic problems and aspirations of the people and the state. As a rule, people 
like to be left alone. Outside the ruling elite, they are fully occupied by their 
daily concerns to make a living, to preserve their health, to protect their 
children, and, in the more dynamic societies, also to gain advancement 
or amass wealth. They are prepared to defend their homes and families 
and throughout recorded history they have also shown themselves ready 
to defend the larger community of which they perceive themselves to be 
a part: the village, the town, or the tribe. Indeed, in some societies (those 
of border and highland Scotland, of Albania, and of the Central Asian 
steppes, for instance), small-scale local armed conflict was the normal 
state of things, and it is no coincidence that these societies produced highly 
sought-after soldiers. Of course, history is also riddled with instances in 
which people have united in much larger, more anonymous groups to fight 
in a "cause": the crusades in medieval Europe, rebellions such as those of the 
Celalis in the early seventeenth-century Ottoman Empire or the Tai Pings 
in nineteenth-century China. Sometimes hundreds of thousands, even 
millions, of people have taken part in these armed movements, but two 
characteristics distinguish these movements from the kind of organized 
violence we discuss in our project: they are generally short-lived (even the 
longest lasting only about fifteen years, most being much shorter) and at 
least at the start spontaneous. In our project we deal with military systems 
established by states for the longer term. 



States therefore have a problem: it is very difficult to get people to devote 
themselves exclusively or predominantly, on a permanent basis, to fighting, 
killing, and dying in the service of distant entities such as courts or abstract 
notions such as the state or the nation. Yet this is exactly what princes and 
states need. Faced with the need to raise soldiers, states have a basic choice 
between two options. To put it in Gramscian terms they can either coerce 
people into serving or convince them to do so through the establishment of 
a hegemonic cultural code, in other words, to create a measure of consent. 
Both coercion and consent have obvious advantages and disadvantages, 
which are well known from the debates about slavery versus wage labour. 14 
At first sight the hiring of professionals, in the form of both mercenaries and 
standing armies, may seem the more expensive option, because it makes 
high demands on the state's ability to pay and often forces the state to 
compete with other employers in the labour market, but at least mercenaries 
(but also levies) have the huge advantage that they can be contracted for a 
single campaign season or emergency only and that they can be disbanded 
thereafter. This seems to have been the practice in India and Europe as early 
as the fourteenth century, but also in the Middle East from the seventeenth 
century onwards. Coercion may seem cheap, but it is more expensive than 
it appears at first sight, because of the need for forceful recruitment and 
constant supervision after soldiers have been recruited. Like slaves, coerced 
soldiers may also be less motivated or "productive" than those who have 
joined the colours of their own free will. In the Ottoman army in the First 
World War, conscripted Arab soldiers were sometimes marched to the front 
in chains and this army had the highest proportion of deserters by far of all 
armies engaged in the war. 

On the other hand, coercion allows the state to escape the need to 
compete in the labour market. It does not have to entice people to become 
soldiers with signing bonuses nor does it have to pay wages in conformity 
with the market. Ultimately, what is the decisive factor may not be cost 
in itself, but value for money or, in other words, cost-effectiveness. It is 
extremely difficult to introduce the concept of "productivity" into discus- 
sions on military labour. After all, what is a soldier's productivity when he 
is engaged in his core business of fighting and killing? Is it the measure of 
destruction he manages to inflict on the enemy? Or is it the degree to which 
his activities help to enlarge the tax base of the state through conquests, 
or further the economic interests of the elites that control the state? In 
economics, productivity is the total production divided by the necessary 

14 Fenoaltea, "Slavery and Supervision in Comparative Perspective". 



workforce, so we not only have to take into account the end result of military 
campaigns, but also the size of the armed force needed to achieve the result. 
Although an interesting topic, this issue is too complicated to deal with in 
the context of this synthesis or even the Fighting for a Living project. In this 
context it is perhaps best to see cost-effectiveness as the lowest expenditure 
that would still give a state good prospects of success on the battlefield. 

Whatever the definition, it seems to be the case that courts and states his- 
torically are looking for the army that is most effective on the battlefield at the 
lowest possible cost (that even this lowest possible cost can still be crippling 
to state and society alike is another matter). However, there can be a huge 
difference between the immediate costs and the long-term financial burden: 
both early seventeenth-century mercenaries and early twenty-first-century 
contractors have been expensive in the short run, but they were and are easily 
dismissed at the end of the conflict, while standing state commission armies 
were a continuous drain on the treasury and the modern all-volunteer forces 
bring with them huge long-term obligations to the soldiers and their families. 

The choice made by different states at different times is influenced by 
many more factors than economic or financial ones alone, however. If 
maintaining a monopoly of violence, or, to put it more realistically, getting 
as close as it can to a monopoly of violence, is a central function of the state, 
the dilemma faced by states that create a powerful military they may not 
be able to control, and that may threaten the established order, is a very 
real one. This is just as true for the state that recruits highly specialized 
military experts (like the mamluks of the Middle East or the Turks and 
Afghans of Hindustan) as for the one that, through conscription, recruits 
mass armies from a population that is at the same time denied access to 
civil rights (as in the cases of Prussia and Russia). Apart from this kind of 
political consideration, ideological considerations or cultural prejudices 
may play a part. The Ottoman decision to exclude non-Muslim citizens 
from the conscription system (a decision that cost them up to 40 per cent 
of their manpower pool before 1878 and at least 20 per cent thereafter) is a 
case in point, but so is the commitment to general conscription of the late 
nineteenth-century French Republic and the Kingdom of Italy, which was 
informed by notions of patriotism and nation-building. As Torn Leonhard 
shows, the rejection of conscription in Great Britain was influenced both 
by the Whig interpretation of history, which saw large standing armies as 
instruments of tyranny and essentially un-British, and by an idealized view 
of the army as representing traditional country values, with aristocratic 
officers and a sturdy peasantry for soldiers. This shifted toward the end of 
the nineteenth century with a changing image of the imperial military and 



an intensified perception of continental models of the nation-in-arms - still 
it needed the new realities of the First World War to introduce general 
conscription in Britain. 

Many states held strong opinions about which populations produced 
good soldiers, and these ideas were not without foundation. As Miller 
writes, one factor that made soldiering attractive for Scotsmen and made 
Scotsmen attractive as soldiers was the long tradition in the country of 
military training through the state-imposed tradition of regular weapons 
training shows. In addition, the internecine small-scale warfare among the 
Scottish nobles and clans formed a permanent training ground for future 
soldiers. The same is true for the Albanians, who gained a reputation as 
warriors both in early modern Europe and in the Middle East. The Albanian 
Mehmed Ali Pasha of Egypt turned to conscripting the fellahs of the Nile 
valley into his army only when he had no other options left, partly because 
the docile peasant population of Egypt was regarded as completely devoid of 
martial qualities. In the end, it turned out that with extreme coercion and 
professional leadership these peasants could be made into a very effective 
army, but as Khaled Fahmy shows, the population continued to see military 
service as a kind of corvee and never developed a "military ethos". 15 

The exemption and substitution systems that were introduced into all 
countries parallel to the introduction of modern conscription were often 
motivated by economic and ideological concerns. On the one hand, there 
was the fear that conscripting the most economically productive males 
(white-collar workers, people with education) would damage the economy, 
as the French debates charted by Hippler show. In the Kingdom of the Neth- 
erlands even wage-earners were exempted. On the other hand, the tendency 
of regimes as far apart as the Dutch, the Russians, and the Ottomans to 
exempt clerical students shows a concern with maintaining the ideological 
bases of the social order. In Germany, Helmuth von Moltke (1800-1891) feared 
that the arming of the workers would constitute a permanent danger for 
the new nation-state. 

Universal patterns 

When surveying the different case studies in our project, we are struck by 
a number of characteristics that seem to be almost universal. One is, as 
noted before, that we always see different types of army style, and different 

15 Fahmy, All the Pasha's Men, p. 99. 



forms of recruitment and labour relations, coexisting. One telling example 
is that of the Delhi sultanate described by Kaushik Roy: its army consisted 
of mercenaries, retainers of tributary chieftains, slave soldiers, and troops 
maintained by holders of fiefs. Change from one army style to another 
may be sudden, but is rarely absolute (the transition of the US Army from 
conscription to an all-volunteer force in 1973, followed by similar transitions 
in most NATO countries, seems to be the exception that confirms the rule). 
While it is true that war nearly always brings with it some degree of change, 
the introduction of new types of armed forces triggered by developments 
in war very often takes place side by side with the continued existence of 
older forces, which remain important even if they are obsolete and have lost 
their credibility on the battlefield. The Ottomans kept their sipahi forces 
in existence for at least two centuries after their military usefulness had 
ended, and the Chinese Empire seems to have been equally conservative, as 
is shown by the example of the Eight Banners of the Ch'ing, who, according 
to Christine Moll-Murata and Ulrich Theobald, were militarily effective 
until about 1680, but were kept in existence until 1912 and consumed about 
a fifth of state revenues. 

It is not hard to see why. Military corps were, after all, in an excellent posi- 
tion to defend their vested interests, especially when garrisoned in major 
cities or the capital. This is one reason why both the Ming and the Ottomans, 
when they started hiring, or levying, mercenary troops, left their obsolete 
formations (garrison troops and household troops in the case of the Ming, 
sipahis and janissaries in that of the Ottomans) in place. Another, almost 
inverse reason, also evident in both these cases, seems to be that a military 
system, even when obsolete on the battlefield, can still be an important 
element of control inside the country, not just in terms of law and order, 
but also in ideological terms. Military elites often exemplified the existing 
social order. The concept of military households was important to the Ming 
as a vital element in its social order, just as the concept of a "military class" 
(askeri) was to that of the Ottomans. Moll-Murata and Theobald, basing 
themselves on the work of Mark Elliott, say that the militarily useless Eight 
Banners were kept in being and paid by the state primarily because they 
served "the display of the presence of the ruling elite in the capital and in 
the provincial garrisons." The continued reliance of the French state on its 
nobility for the recruiting and officering of its army even after that nobility 
had lost its autonomy can be interpreted in the same sense. 

Hereditary military labour has been judged very differently in different 
states and societies. On the one extreme, we find the Ming Empire, which 
originally imposed hereditary military service on a section of the popula- 



tion. On the other, we find the Egyptian mamluks and Ottomans, who (at 
least in theory) explicitly rejected the idea that sons should follow their 
fathers in the military profession. In both cases the injunction was closely 
linked to ideas about a stable social order, as hereditary service under the 
Ming was only one part of a rigid division of society into hereditary profes- 
sions, while in the Middle East exclusion of offspring from the military elite 
was seen as a way to buttress a social order with a military elite (askeri) 
that was theoretically completely separated from the mass of the ruled in 
a way that is a perfect illustration of Ernest Gellner's famous description 
of the "agro-literate polity". 

Apart from the formal positions of states on hereditary service, for 
or against, hereditary elements often played a role in communities that 
traditionally provided mercenary soldiers, such as the Swiss, the Scots, the 
Rajputs, the Gurkhas, or the "House Men" of the Ming. As Roy says for India, 
"at times military service defined the identity of various communities". 
Indeed, in early modern aggregate contract armies in Europe children 
often accompanied their fathers (and mothers) on campaign, and being a 
member of a family with military experience was considered an advantage. 
Officers the world over mostly came from "military" families, although 
Europe from medieval times to the twentieth century seems to have been 
unique in the degree to which performing military service was considered 
the noble occupation par excellence and a hallmark of noble status. The 
Rajputs display the same characteristics, but in the Indian context their 
case seems to have been rather exceptional. 

What is very clear is that there is no teleological sequence. There is no 
single process of armies progressing from one stage to another on some 
developmental or modernization path. Because of the strong ideological 
resistance in the Anglo-Saxon world to the idea of conscription, which was 
closely identified with tyranny, this system, which became universal in 
nineteenth-century Europe, was not introduced in Britain until a century 
later and then only temporarily. A century later again, the reduction of 
the armed forces of industrialized countries after the end of the Cold 
War, in combination with a glut of arms and officers caused in part by 
the end of the Warsaw Pact and in part by the end of apartheid in South 
Africa, led to a resurgence of mercenary forces in the form of "contractors" 
such as Blackwater as a major component in military campaigns of NATO 
countries. Only decades before, when mercenaries played a role only in 
post-colonial conflicts in Africa, the resurgence of a form of military labour 
that had been in decline since the seventeenth century was not predicted 
by anyone. Nevertheless, although there is no single path of development, 



in some periods certain systems clearly come to dominate while others 
fade. As Lynn has noted, the mercenary did not disappear after 1650, but 
in Europe the state commission army did become the norm. In the Middle 
East the janissaries remained in existence until 1826, but irregular levies 
had become the mainstay of the army by the eighteenth century. After 1815, 
many restoration regimes, like those in the Netherlands or Italy, rejected 
conscription as a revolutionary legacy, but in the decades thereafter the 
system became dominant throughout Europe and the Middle East. What 
were the factors determining these changes? 

Now let us try to draw up a preliminary survey of those factors that act 
as determinants where military employment is concerned. 

Manpower and money 

The availability of people and of money seem to be the most important 
determinants. It is these two factors, the classic factors of labour and capital, 
that create the parameters within which choices can be made. In these 
choices political, ideological, and cultural considerations very often play 
a significant role. 

Let us first look at demographics, at manpower. Both the Chinese and 
Indian experience is determined first and foremost by the availability of an 
enormous, and seemingly unlimited, manpower pool. This gave the Mogul 
Empire the chance to raise vast peasant armies and the Chinese Empire the 
opportunity to raise armies that were of a different order of magnitude al- 
together, when compared with European, South Asian, and Middle Eastern 
examples. As Roy notes, at the end of the sixteenth century the population 
of the Indian subcontinent was five times that of the Ottoman Empire, 
ten times that of France, and thirty times that of England. The Chinese 
manpower pool was clearly unique when looked at in a global comparative 
perspective, as it was almost as large as that of the subcontinent in 1600 
(and became much bigger later on), but much more of this population fell 
under the central control of Beijing than was the case in India. As Bailey 
shows, the transition from a conscript army to an all-volunteer force in the 
United States was also very much the result of demographic development, 
i.e. the baby boom, which "translated into a flood of young men eligible for 
military service in the early 1960s". Scotland in the sixteenth and seven- 
teenth centuries had a very small population, but - relative to its size - an 
abundance of surplus labour that was used to handling weapons. When 
population growth stagnated in the eighteenth century, the recruitment 
of Scots by the British Army became a problem. The manpower demands 
of the army in the nineteenth century meant that the British had to start 



recruiting in the urban centres of England, rather than in the countryside, 
in spite of strong objections to the enlisting of urban riff-raff in the army. 
For the Dutch, as Amersfoort shows, the small population in combination 
with the drying up of foreign recruitment sources meant that a return to 
conscription became inevitable after 1813. This drying up was due to the 
expansion of the textile industry in Switzerland, which created attractive 
alternatives to the traditional practice of hiring oneself out as a soldier. 
Conversely, according to Zhao Zhongnan and Suzuki Tadashi (cited by 
David M. Robinson in this volume), the manpower pool available to the 
Ming army increased considerably when civilian farmers and military 
household soldiers lost their land to increasingly powerful landlords in the 
late sixteenth century, and this allowed the state to recruit on a large scale. 

The second factor is money. Where labour markets were tight, states 
essentially had only two ways to strengthen their armies: either through 
more coercion (isolating groups of people from the labour market), which 
also carries a cost, or through improving the position of the army in the 
labour market by offering higher wages or other benefits. Coercion is much 
in evidence, and here too we see recurrent patterns in a number of cases. 
The "press", or similar systems, although not used as frequently and bru- 
tally as in the case of the navy, was used by British, German, and Ottoman 
authorities to get rid of social undesirables, which usually meant vagrants, 
beggars, and more generally men without property, protection, or regular 
work. Miller gives a telling example from 1630, when the Privy Council 
of Scotland ordered "all beggars, vagabonds, and masterless men with no 
lawful trade or means of livelihood" to enlist. In 1769 an Ottoman chronicler 
noted that provincial governors recruited thieves and the homeless. In 
Russia, communities and landlords used conscription to send off criminals, 
troublemakers, drunkards and men deemed disobedient, unruly or simply 
lazy. It is hardly surprising that armies time and again complained about the 
quality of the personnel that was provided to them in this way. As Johnson 
shows, this meant that well-trained native troops in the East India Company 
Army, who were essentially volunteers, were considered much better than 
the soldiers shipped out from the mother country. 

Paying higher wages was a difficult option for the state. Financing the 
troops was a continuous problem for most states, certainly in Europe and 
the Middle East. This is true as much for the Habsburgs during the Thirty 
Years War, who became dependent on a new breed of general contractors 
that provided credit as well as an army, as it was for France in the late 
seventeenth century or the Ottomans in the nineteenth. As Tallett notes, 
states such as Prussia in the eighteenth century -those which maintained 



a disproportionally large army compared to population size and had under- 
commercialized economies - needed a high degree of coercion to fill their 
ranks. The Dutch Republic was on the opposite side of the spectrum. In 
spite of its small population, which was averse to military service because 
there were more profitable opportunities in the labour market, the Dutch 
managed to raise sizeable aggregate contract armies because of their 
financial strength and advanced banking system. The Chinese Empire, 
when united under the Ming and Ch'ing dynasties, was at the opposite 
side of the spectrum from Prussia in a different way. Its huge population in 
combination with its ability to extract and import such enormous amounts 
of silver and grain that it could provide for its armies in spite of their huge 
size (between five and ten times that of the biggest European armies) 
meant that it needed relatively little coercion. Roy draws attention to the 
fact that, because of their huge manpower pool, neither India nor China 
has ever had to introduce conscription. France, on the other hand, did. 
After the restoration of 1814, conscription was abolished, as it was under 
nearly all other restoration regimes as a detested revolutionary legacy, 
but according to Hippler the pay offered to soldiers was so low that only 
3,500 recruits came forward, and in 1818 a form of compulsory military 
service was re-established. Conscription was seen as a cheap alternative 
to the pre-revolutionary state commission army and, faced with the choice 
between higher rewards to make the army more attractive as an employer 
(persuasion) and the imposition of a tributary labour relation (coercion), 
the French state opted for the latter. 


As mentioned above, most states were constantly on the lookout for the best 
army at the lowest cost to the treasury. But the army had to be effective 
as well, which meant - and means - being technologically state-of-the-art 
and reliable. Many of the most far-reaching changes in army recruitment 
and employment were due to the desire to apply lessons learned in war 
(primarily through defeat) and to emulate more successful competitors. As 
Tallett has shown, this did not necessarily centre on new technologies (in 
the sense of hardware) but more often on that of "social technologies", things 
such as new forms of discipline, training, and institutional structures. This 
seems to have been a decisive factor in the long Austro-Ottoman wars of 
the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries as well as in the success 
of relatively small European colonial forces all over Asia. Ultimately, this 
led to the adoption of Western-style discipline, with uniforms and drill, in 
Egypt, the Ottoman Empire, and China. That the change was not necessarily 



always in the direction of technological innovation is demonstrated by 
the case of French revolutionary and Napoleonic armies, which replaced 
the perfectionist drill of the eighteenth-century professional armies with 
armies that were poorly trained and armed, but possessed overwhelming 
manpower, speed, and high morale. 

Changes in military technology, financial constraints, and the size of 
the available labour pool undoubtedly were the most important factors 
determining the choice for a specific form of recruitment and military 
employment, with defeat in war acting as a catalyst, but other considera- 
tions also played a role. 


Political considerations were always important, as balancing the need for a 
larger army with the need to maintain control over those who could provide 
it or finance it (in the early modern states) or the need to manufacture or 
maintain consent among the public (in modern states) has always been 
high on the agenda of those in power. As Charles Tilly has argued, the 
development of the modern state rested on its ability to offer protection 
and the benefits, or rent, of that protection to the interest groups that made 
the waging of war possible in the first place. 16 The same large modern army 
that allowed a prince to be successful in fighting external wars and in 
maintaining a monopoly of violence at home risked delivering him into the 
hands of his creditors. High numbers of casualties or exorbitant expendi- 
ture bring with them the risk of loss of political support. One of the major 
reasons behind the widespread use of contractors by the US Army in Iraq 
and Afghanistan has been the way it lessens the state's need to maintain 
public support for its policies. 

Ideological and cultural factors 

Ideological and cultural factors determining who should fight or should be 
excluded from the bearing of arms are also prominent. Conscription was 
so bound up with the revolutionary period in the eyes of the restoration 
regimes after 1815 that they preferred to fall back on state commission 
professional armies and militias (as Amersfoort shows for the Dutch case), 
while for the French Third Republic conscription as an expression of citizen- 
ship and as the supposed legacy of the great revolution became an issue 
of almost mythical proportions, as Hippler demonstrates. As noted before, 
the refusal of the Ottomans to conscript non-Muslims severely limited 

16 Tilly, "War Making and State Making as Organized Crime". 



their manpower base until 1909. Rovinello highlights a problem that was 
faced by many states: while in itself the Italian population after the wars of 
unification was more than ample to fulfil the manpower needs of the army, 
the Piedmontese army command had severe doubts about "diluting" the 
army with unreliable southerners. The same kind of doubts can be found 
in Britain and France, not so much in terms of regional preferences but in 
terms of a distrust of the urban proletariat, especially after the Paris Com- 
mune of 1871. The reservations of Moltke in this respect have been noted 
already. The Ottomans considered recruiting Christians and Jews bad for 
morale, and the Russians rejected Central Asians as unsuitable until 1916. 

A change in the dominant ideological paradigm sometimes exerted pow- 
erful influence on recruitment practices, especially if it went hand in hand 
with economic or demographic change. It may have been true that sources 
for mercenary recruitment in Switzerland dried up primarily because of 
the expansion of the textile industry, but it was also true that the spread of 
enlightenment ideas about citizenship and the nation made soldiering for 
money a disreputable trade. And, while the baby boom certainly decreased 
the need for forced conscription in the United States in the 1970s and made 
volunteerism possible, the rise of neo-liberal free-market economists and 
politicians, who defined conscription as a "hidden tax" and who advocated 
recruitment through the labour market, was a decisive factor in forcing 
through the transition to a professional army. 

Popular cooperation and resistance 

The analysis thus far concentrates almost exclusively on the needs and 
actions of the state, but we should not, of course, envisage the people who 
were the objects of the state's intervention as being merely passive; they had 
and have agency as well. As much as the state has a repertoire of options, 
the people also have a repertoire of options open to them. Of course, they 
can comply with the demands of the state, and this may simply be a form 
of acquiescence on the part of communities faced with the power of the 
state. On the other hand, compliance does not necessarily have to equal 
acquiescence. People can see the army as an opportunity structure, offering 
them chances of social advancement or of improving their living standards, 
the chance to escape issues at home including getting women pregnant, 
feuds, or crimes (as Johnson notes), or simply the possibility to travel and 
see more of the world than their own village or valley. Rovinello shows that 
this was a factor for Italian recruits in the nineteenth century. He also makes 
the point that the draft acquired a symbolic meaning as a rite of passage to 
adulthood. Being declared fit for the army was a "public certification of their 



masculinity" (and, one might add, of their health). In the industrialized world 
of the twentieth century, young healthy males who had served their country 
in the army were seen as attractive workers, as they had been declared 
healthy (psychologically as well as physically) and had acquired discipline. 

The fact that the state is in need of manpower to fill the ranks of its 
army also enables people to instrumentalize military service for their own 
ends. Communities that provided soldiers during levies often managed to 
get compensation in the form of tax breaks. The Cossacks of the Russian 
Empire are perhaps the most telling example of a community that managed 
to exchange its loyalty and military prowess for concessions in the form of 
autonomy, royal protection, and tax exemption. Another interesting form 
of "exchange" is the one that Bes.ikc.i describes for the Ottoman Empire in 
the First World War, when prisoners were released in large numbers if they 
agreed to serve in labour battalions or in militia units. 

There is evidence that, whether in Asia, the Middle East, or Europe, the 
army was rarely a popular employer, at least where the rank and file were 
concerned. It was often an employer of last resort. But even so, when work 
was scarce, when harvests failed, or when industries went through a slump, 
the army offered low but regular pay, food, and lodging - in other words a 
security that was hard to find anywhere else. 

On the other hand, people may also resist. But, to borrow from Charles 
Tilly's conceptualization of social movements, 17 the repertoire of resistance 
is also varied. First there is the tendency to avoid service altogether. Con- 
scription systems, old and new, just like enslavement, have generally been 
deeply unpopular. As Besikci says (citing Alan Forrest), "conscription can 
also be depicted as a battleground between individual and local communi- 
ties on the one hand and a distant impersonal state on the other". Privileged 
sections of society have generally been able to make use of exemptions, and 
both communities and local authorities seem to have done their best to 
make sure that "undesirables", who were unproductive and might otherwise 
create unrest in society, were taken into the army. This is a clear case of 
instrumentalization of the state's recruitment drive on the part of social 
actors. For populations that were faced with coercion on the part of the 
state and its representatives, different forms of avoidance were open: going 
into hiding or self-mutilation, which, according to Fahmy, was especially 
widespread in nineteenth-century Egypt. 18 Once in the army, both desertion 
and defection became options, even if sometimes highly dangerous ones. 

17 Tilly, Social Movements 7768-2004. 

18 Fahmy, All the Pasha's Men, pp. 260-263. 



The ultimate form of resistance was mutiny. "Industrial action" by its own 
armed forces was of course the most serious crisis any ruling elite could 
face. There seems to be some evidence that groups with a strong corporate 
identity that could be regarded as "artisans of war" such as mercenaries 
or janissaries, and troops raised from an urban background, seem to be 
more prone to mutiny while, on the other hand, peasant armies seem to 
be more prone to desertion. This may well be linked, as Sikora suggests, to 
the fact that peasant armies, whether early modern state commissioned 
armies or conscripted ones, were subjected to stronger coercion, control, 
and discipline from the late seventeenth century onwards. It may also be 
linked, I would suggest, to the different repertoires of resistance in towns 
and in the countryside. To an urban population, industrial action and collec- 
tive protest were familiar, even before the advent of industrialization, while 
traditionally desertion - that is, fleeing the land and going into hiding - had 
been a form of resistance to the demands of the state and the landowning 
class in many rural societies. 

A final word 

What the project has shown us is that there is, to paraphrase van der Linden, 
an almost endless variety of military workers in history, but also that we can 
develop a taxonomy that allows us to group all these different forms from 
many different countries and periods in categories on the basis of shared 
characteristics and to do so in a meaningful way. When we combine the 
classification thus achieved with a set of the most important determinants, 
we can discern a number of patterns and reach tentative conclusions about 
the circumstances that influence the choice for a certain type of recruit- 
ment and a certain form of military employment. It is hoped that, alongside 
similar research conducted at the IISH on industries that offer opportunities 
for comparative research because of their global nature (textiles, docks, 
prostitution), this study of military labour helps us to increase our under- 
standing of labour relations worldwide. 19 

19 In writing this synthesis I have profited from the comments and suggestions of the col- 
leagues who participated in the project and of Jan Lucassen and Marcel van der Linden. My 
special thanks go to Elise Kimerling Wirtschafter for kindly correcting the English of the original 

Military labor in China, c. 1500 

David M. Robinson 

Military labor markets have a long history in China. In fact, as Mark Lewis 
has shown, policy debates over such issues as conscription, professional 
standing armies, recruitment, and rewards predated the emergence of the 
first imperial dynasty, the Qin, in 221 BC. 1 Given this background, modern 
scholars' relative indifference to this cluster of issues is striking. This chap- 
ter briefly reviews a few key works and debates related to military labor in 
China c. 1500, most especially recruitment, then moves to consideration 
of the Chinese example in the light of our common comparative axes and 
taxonomies, and finally concludes with an effort to assess the causal factors 
that accounted for the particular forms of military labor in China c. 1500. 

A review of the field 

In 1937, a pioneering scholar of the Ming period (1368-1644), Wu Han, wrote 
the first major scholarly essay on the Ming military. His central concern was 
the transition from what he described as a hereditary conscription military, 
tightly controlled by the central government, to a system of hired soldiers 
that ultimately gave greater power to leading generals than to the dynasty. 
Wu described the transformation in the following terms: 

From a garrison system that supported 3 million men at the cost of 
not a single penny to the state to a mercenary system whose costs 
fell entirely to the people and dynastic coffers; from garrison troops 
with fixed levels of men to mercenaries with no fixed numbers; from 
hereditary garrison troops to hired mercenaries: this sea change was 
central to the rise and fall of the Ming period and was the largest shift 
in modern history. 2 

Before examining Wu Han's arguments, a thumbnail sketch of the Ming 
military system is useful here. Borrowing a model developed by his prede- 
cessors (the Mongol rulers of the Yuan dynasty, who had controlled China 

1 Lewis, Sanctioned Violence in Early China, esp. ch. 2, "The Warring State", pp. 53-96. 

2 Wu, "Mingdai de jun bing", p. 149. 



for much of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries), the Ming founder, Zhu 
Yuanzhang (1328-1398), had assigned hereditary obligations to the state to 
individual households. 3 He divided the population into dozens of categories 
- saltern households, mining households, and farming households, to name 
just a few. 4 Military households were among the largest of such categories. 
The Ming founder drew upon four major sources of troops for his dynastic 
army: (a) men who had joined him when he had been a rebel leader during 
the 1350s and early 1360s, (b) surrendering troops of rival warlords who 
were integrated into his army, (c) criminals sentenced to military service, 
and finally (d) forced conscripts, usually assessed as a given percentage of 
the local population and used to fill out the ranks of the early Ming army. 5 

The imperial army in general and military households in particular 
were intended to be self-replicating and self-supporting. Each household 
was responsible for providing one active service member to the state at all 
times instead of the standard corvee and/or tax obligations rendered by 
other subjects. Further they were to supply one, two, or three other males 
whose labor and/or income was to support the active-service soldier. If 
through death, accident, desertion, or dismissal, the active-service soldier 
was no longer able to fulfill his responsibilities to the state, the family was 
to supply a replacement, beginning with the nuclear family and extending 
out to brothers, cousins, and beyond. 6 By the late fourteenth century, active- 
service soldiers were stationed in more than three hundred garrisons spread 
across the empire. The economic foundation of this hereditary garrison 
system, like the foundation for the dynasty as a whole, was agriculture. 

During the early decades of the Ming, the central government seized 
huge swathes of territory that were turned over to garrisons, which were 
responsible for opening and working agricultural lands. The primary duty 
of approximately 70 per cent of the entire 1.2 million-man Ming army (but 
rising briefly to a reputed 3 million in the early fifteenth century) was 
raising grains, half of which were to be used by the farmer-soldiers and half 
to be turned over to the local garrison to cover expenses for active-service 

3 Taylor, "Yuan Origins of the Wei-so System". 

4 Wang, "Some Salient Features of the Ming Labor Service System". 

5 For a recent review, see Zhang, Mingdaiweisuo junhuyanjiu, pp. 20-50. Another essential 
set of essays by a leading scholar of the social and institutional histories of the Ming garrisons 
isYu, Weisuo,junhu,yujunyi. 

6 Yu, Mingdaijunhu shixi zhidu. 



troops such as wages, equipment, medical costs, and clothing. 7 This was 
Wu Han's self-sufficient and well-controlled garrison system. 8 

For Wu and many later scholars, the shift to hired troops grew out of 
official corruption and exploitation. 9 Underpaid and exploited by their 
officers, by early in the fifteenth century garrison soldiers began to desert in 
large numbers. Desertion undermined not only troop strength but also the 
economic foundation of the system, as fewer and fewer men were available 
to farm the garrison fields. Other soldiers offered gifts and monthly fees to 
their superiors to avoid military duties. Efforts to track down deserters or 
replace them with family members, who might live corvee-free and far away, 
led to further opportunities for graft. Bribes were demanded to turn a blind 
eye. Authorities responsible for filling the ranks were not above arbitrarily 
registering unrelated or unqualified men to serve as replacements. From 
the early decades of the dynasty, the central government responded with 
orders for local authorities to compile more accurate registers, eliminate 
fraud, and locate replacements from the families of soldiers who deserted. 10 
In his famous "Placards to Instruct the People" issued in 1398, the Ming 
founder repeatedly urged members of rural communities to turn in desert- 
ing soldiers who sought to hide from imperial authority. 11 The results were 
mixed at best. 

Another complaint heard with increasing frequency over the fifteenth 
century was the misuse of military personnel. Officers often treated 
soldiers in their units as private labor gangs: they tilled officers' fields, 
tended livestock, felled trees for lumber, gathered valuable roots such as 
ginseng (along the northeastern border), conducted trade, and acted as 
personal servants. In fact, the central government and its agents also used 
the army for nonmilitary purposes but on a much grander scale. Garrison 
soldiers provided the labor for many if not most large-scale construction 

7 Wang, Mingdai de juntian; Ming, "Tuntian Farming of the Ming Dynasty". 

8 Even during the early years of the dynasty, the military system had never been economically 
self-sufficient but instead relied on regular infusions of "gifts" from the throne. See Huang, 
"Military Expenditures in Sixteenth- Century Ming China". 

9 For a fairly recent essay that ascribes manpower shortages - and the dynasty's ultimate 
collapse - primarily to corruption among military officers and other administrators, see Liu, 
"Mingdai weisuo quewu de yuanyin tanxi". Liu explicitly argues that the dangers of corruption 
in the Ming have lessons for contemporary leaders in China. The same line of argumentation 
of course was true for Wu Han writing in the 1930s; he was criticizing the practices of the 
Guomintang (or Nationalist) government under Chiang Kai-shek. 

10 Ma, "Mingdai de jiading". For an early example of desertion, see Ming Taizu shUu, ig3.8a-b. 

11 Zhu, "The Placards of the People's Instructions". 



projects sponsored by the state, including palaces, city walls, dikes, border 
fortifications, and even stupas for Tibetan monks resident in the capital. 12 

The Ming was the first Chinese dynasty to institutionalize the use of 
military personnel as transport workers on a permanent and wide-scale 
basis. During the late fourteenth century, more than 80,000 soldiers were 
used to transport grain to the distant but strategically vital northeast border 
region of Liaodong. 13 Early in the fifteenth century, the principal dynastic 
capital was relocated northward from Nanjing to Beijing. From this time 
onward, an even greater number of men moved tax grain along the Grand 
Canal to the capital in Beijing from agricultural centres in the southeast. 
Figures from the first half of the fifteenth century suggest that each year 
more than 100,000 men drawn from approximately 170 garrisons moved 3 
million piculs of rice in 3,000 barges along the Grand Canal system from 
Ningbo to the capital, a distance of approximately 2,300 km. 14 However, the 
military labor pool that supported the arrangement on occasion proved too 
tempting to the court. For instance, in 1448 nearly 20,000 grain-shipment 
soldiers were deployed elsewhere to suppress a major insurrection, severely 
disrupting the delivery of the grain to the capital. This in turn strained 
dynastic logistics - the approximately 700,000 imperial troops stationed 
in Beijing and its environs depended on the timely arrival of tax grain from 
the productive southern provinces. 

The disruption catalyzed reform in the late fifteenth century that re- 
sulted, on paper at least, in an even more ambitious program to ship grain 
along the Grand Canal: 121,500 soldiers moving grain on 11,775 transport 
barges. The state permitted each grain-shipment soldier to carry items to 
engage in a limited amount of customs-free trade. The state also built and 
maintained a series of hostels and pharmacies along the Grand Canal for 
transport soldiers. The result was a stable and expanded flow of grain. By 
1500 or so, approximately 4 million piculs of grain arrived in the capital each 
year. 15 Court officials congratulated themselves on their success, putting 
in the mouths of a foreign envoy who traveled the Grand Canal to the 
capital the following testimony: "The rudders of the Central State are more 
numerous than the soldiers of this small barbarian kingdom. Would we 
dare harbor traitorous aspirations?" 16 

12 For the staggering costs of building of the Ming's northern fortifications, see Waldron, The 
Great Wall of China, pp. 91-164. 

13 Ming Taizu shilu, 193.58-0. 

14 Lin, "Mingdai caojunzhi chutan", p. 183. 

15 Ibid., pp. 183-187. 

16 "Xu" in Cao chuan zhijuan 6, cited in Lin, "Mingdai caojunzhi chutan", p. 187. 



For Wu Han and others, however, the state's use of military personnel in 
major infrastructure projects and for other purposes not only drove many 
to desertion but also undermined military training. The young and the 
strong were favored for such labor gangs. The old and infirm were most 
available but least likely to benefit from regular military drill. According 
to this line of analysis, by no later than the 1430s, the armies of the Ming 
dynasty were in steep decline. A disastrous defeat in 1449 at the hands of 
the Mongol leader Esen at Tumu Fort (north of the capital at Beijing) is often 
offered as evidence for this collapse. 17 

The debacle at Tumu represented a major crisis for the Ming dynasty. The 
reigning emperor was taken captive; his half-brother was hurriedly put on 
the throne in his place; the survival of the dynasty, especially the capital 
in Beijing, seemed uncertain. To revitalize the military, the Ming court 
enacted several reforms, two of which are most critical to our interests. 
The first was the augmentation of garrison troops through local militias. 
The second was the first large-scale effort to hire troops. In 1449 the central 
government instructed local officials to conscript between one and four 
men from each administrative community (which putatively contained 
110 families). These men were to drill several weeks each fall and spring 
during lulls in the farming calendar. These local militias (literally "people's 
stalwarts") were intended for short-term defense of their localities. When 
called up for service, each man was to be provided with "travel grain", i.e., 
a wage to feed him while on campaign. 

The second effort to augment the garrison system during the fifteenth 
century was the initial and limited use of hired troops. The Ming imperial 
state employed a range of recruiting methods: it recruited men from within 
the ranks of garrison soldiers, that is, men from hereditary military house- 
holds who were already legally bound to fulfill their family's obligations 
to the state; it recruited members of hereditary military households who 
were not actively serving as soldiers but who were supposed to provide 
income to support their active-service relative; and it recruited those with 
no military obligations to the state. In each case, recruits generally received 
signing bonuses and monthly salaries. Later, during the widespread coastal 
piracy of the mid-sixteenth century, many generals actively recruited hired 
troops, offering competitive wages and intensive training in weapons and 
group combat. 

Hired troops were especially numerous along the northern border. Al- 
ready by 1500 or so, nearly 20,000 hired troops augmented dynastic defense 

17 Mote, "The T'u-mu Incident of 1449". 



in the single northwestern region of Yansui. 18 By 1550, officials were recruit- 
ing on a large scale. In the wake of destructive raiding in the capital region 
by the Mongol leader Altan in 1550, recruiting in several northern provinces 
yielded as many as 40,000 men in the single year of 1550. Wu Han argued 
that, by this point, hired troops had become the principal fighting forces 
of the Ming military - not in terms of numbers but in terms of efficacy. 
Garrison troops were not abolished but neither did they contribute greatly 
to the defense of the dynasty. 19 As noted above, however, the state put them 
to use in a variety of ways. 

For Wu Han and others, corruption again eroded whatever military 
advantages the hired troops offered. Part of the problem was that men 
signed up, received their bonuses, and fled as soon as possible. Officials at 
the time claimed that some men did this on a serial basis. At the same time, 
hired troops expected to be paid on time and did not hesitate to riot when 
the state failed to fulfill its obligations. As the dynasty's fiscal conditions 
worsened in the early seventeenth century, wages were frequently in ar- 
rears. Wu Han estimated that, between 1610 and 1627, wages to hired troops 
were in arrears by nearly 10 million taels of silver (although it is not clear if 
they were being paid in grain, silver, or a mix of the two). 20 To put this figure 
in perspective, the average annual income of the central government was 
somewhere in the neighborhood of 30 million taels of silver. 

Overall, the system of hiring troops contributed to higher costs for 
military defense, especially along the northern border. In the mid-fifteenth 
century, the central government began to provide "annual subsidies" to 
garrisons to support the growing expenses of the northern border. By the 
early sixteenth century, such subsidies reached 430,000 taels and continued 
to rise steadily until the end of the dynasty. To cover the higher costs, court 
and local government levied surtaxes, sometimes years or even decades in 
advance, which according to Wu Han and others, in turn increased land 
flight, social discontent, and support for the rebels who eventually toppled 
the dynasty. During the last reign of the dynasty (1628-1644), these surtaxes 
amounted to nearly 30 million taels of silver. 21 

Finally, on the political and social fronts, a common perception at the 
time and in much modern scholarship is that, by the early seventeenth 
century, hired soldiers felt greater loyalty to their individual commanders 

18 Li, "Mingdai mubingzhi jianlun", p. 64. 

19 Wu, "Mingdai de jun bing", p. 188. 

20 Ibid., p. 197. 

21 Li, "Mingdai mubingzhi jianlun", p. 68. 



than they did to the court or central government. In a similar vein, the 
most powerful generals, who considered their troops as a source of personal 
power, were loath to waste them in combat with the court's enemies. Wu 
Han argued that during the dynasty's last decades, these generals were 
unwilling to fully engage with rebel forces, which led directly to the fall 
of the Ming. 22 

Other, less well-known scholars have characterized the growth in hired 
soldiers in different ways. In 1940, the Japanese scholar Suzuki Tadashi 
examined the emergence and significance of "people's stalwarts" and hired 
soldiers during the Ming. 23 Like Wu, Suzuki contextualized the appearance 
of the people's stalwarts as a response to the decline of the garrison system, 
a decline thrown into clear relief with the 1449 Tumu debacle. Suzuki, 
however, pointed to the great regional variation in the size and function 
of people's stalwarts. He also viewed the people's stalwarts as a facet of 
longstanding traditions of local self-governance, a characterization fully 
congruent with Japanese Sinology of the first half of the twentieth century. 24 
Thus, where Wu Han had written chiefly from the perspective of the central 
government's efforts to revive the dynasty's military, Suzuki more fully 
acknowledged the role of local government and local elites. 

Suzuki's understanding of mercenaries, too, differed from that of Wu 
Han. Although both argued that the widespread use of hired soldiers dated 
from the piracy crises of the mid-sixteenth century, Suzuki held that hired 
soldiers, particularly jia bing and jia ding, which might be translated as 
"house soldiers" and "housemen", respectively, not only bolstered impe- 
rial military strength but also enjoyed considerable appeal among the 
general populace. He offered numerous examples of where contemporary 
observers portrayed carefully selected housemen as the key to success in 
battle. Enjoying preferential economic treatment and holding some level 
of personal loyalty to an individual commander, housemen were thought 
most effective as shock troops or as vanguard forces. Whereas duty as a 
people's stalwart was an onerous obligation, to be evaded if at all possible, 
service as a houseman was an opportunity to earn cash and a means of 
escape from a village economy that had suffered considerable damage as 

22 Wu, "Mingdai de jun bing", p. 190. More recently, Kenneth Swope has similarly observed, 
"the military families in Liaodong came to form a martial caste of sorts, largely independent 
from central government control" (Swope, "A Few Good Men", pp. 40-41). Swope, however, offers 
a far more positive treatment of the contribution of the leading military families of Liaodong 
to dynastic defenses. 

23 Suzuki, "Mingdai kahei ko". 

24 Ibid., pp. 7-10, 24. 



a result of piracy and efforts to suppress it. Thus, large numbers of young 
men were willing to fight for pay. 25 Although Suzuki too acknowledged that 
their growing ranks imposed a serious fiscal strain on the dynasty in the 
long term, he argued that hired soldiers were militarily effective. 

Finally, Suzuki disagreed with Wu about the challenge that late Ming 
commanders posed to the central government. He acknowledged that 
border generals did have the potential to become "minor warlords", but he 
maintained that fighting with the Manchus prevented them from develop- 
ing into a serious threat to Beijing. If the Qing had failed and these Ming 
border commanders had continued to grow in power, however, they would 
have emerged as warlords and brought "a revolution" similar to those that 
had ended many previous dynasties, Suzuki speculated. 26 

In 1952, Suzuki published an additional study that focused more squarely 
on the socioeconomic conditions that gave rise to the "housemen". 27 Suzuki 
saw the housemen as part of a widespread desire for social advancement 
that predated the sixteenth century. Its background was the monetization 
of the economy, including the payment of some taxes in silver, improved 
standards of living, and changed attitudes toward the acquisition of 
wealth. 28 Self-castration in the hope of securing employment in the imperial 
palace and "placing oneself in the care of the powerful" (tou chong) were 
simply different manifestations of this same desire to advance, he wrote. He 
characterized housemen as sharing certain similarities with the long-term 
tenants of landlords in that they were sometimes cast as sharing fictive kin 
ties with their patrons. Suzuki described the housemen as simultaneously 
"trusted intimates, claws and teeth, and hawks and hounds". He empha- 
sized, however, that the sources for military housemen were by no means 
restricted to household servants. 

Suzuki stressed not only the push/pull factor of the new opportunities. He 
also maintained that the supply of potential housemen had its roots in the 
intersection of land tenure patterns and strong state influence prevalent in 
North China, especially in the borderlands. During the fifteenth and early 
sixteenth centuries, military commanders, palace eunuchs, and imperial 
affines used their influence to encroach upon relatively plentiful farmlands 
that enjoyed tax-free status (whether because they were garrison fields, 
imperial horse pasturages, or acreage opened up under special government 

25 Ibid., pp. 17-22, 25. 

26 Ibid., pp. 23-24. 

27 Suzuki, "Mindai katei ko". 

28 Ibid., p. 27. 



incentives). As a result, the tax burden for the village or county as a whole 
fell heavily on those who remained in the rolls. In response, many placed 
themselves under the protection of powerful patrons. Farming households 
provided the labor to work the fields and tend livestock; they also paid rent 
to their patrons. The patrons in turn used their political connections to 
shield them from tax and labor obligations to the state and, perhaps even 
more importantly, from extra-legal levies that local officials imposed with 
great frequency. 29 Later scholars, such as Ray Huang and Wang Yuquan, 
would debate whether this arrangement represented a form of political 
and economic exploitation by elites that reduced hapless peasants to the 
status of serfs or an economically beneficial accord that allowed farmers to 
keep more of the harvest for themselves and avoid arbitrary exactions from 
local officials. 30 In any case, for Suzuki the basic equation was clear - the 
more land that military commanders controlled, the greater their ability to 
support housemen, which in turn increased their ability to extract rewards, 
honors, and special privileges from the court. 

Although it is common to date the widespread use of housemen to the 
mid-sixteenth century, Suzuki pointed out that, by no later than the mid- 
fifteenth century, some military commanders maintained housemen on 
whose behalf they tried to secure rewards from the throne for battlefield 
exploits. 31 By the mid-sixteenth century, the central government was issuing 
orders for commanders to recruit housemen (again along the northern 
border). 32 During the late sixteenth and mid-seventeenth centuries, house- 
men grew even more prominent in contemporary consciousness. 

Many writers at the time felt that housemen demonstrated superior 
valor on the battlefield. Border commanders were often careful to cultivate 
personal ties with their housemen, "sharing equally their joys and hard- 
ships". Some housemen adopted the surname of their commander. In other 
cases, the housemen were bound through adoption or marriage ties to 
their commanders. 33 Thus, it was felt, housemen soldiers were uniquely 

29 Ibid., pp. 27-32. 

30 Huang, Taxation and Government Finance in Sixteenth-Century China, pp. 107, 325-326; 
Wang, "Mingdai xungui dizhu de dianhu". For a summary of the question and references to 
related Chinese and Japanese scholarship, see Robinson, Bandits, Eunuchs, and the Son of Heaven, 
PP- 36-37- 

31 Ma, "Mingdai de jiading", pp. 214-218. 

32 Ibid., pp. 222-223. 

33 These familial ties are especially stressed by Zhao ("Lun Mingdai jundui zhong jiading de 
tedian yu diwei", p. 146), who argues that the prevalence of adoption within the ranks of the 
military surpassed that of any earlier period in Chinese history. 



cohesive as units and willing to endure great suffering on behalf of their 
commanders. Commanders used units of housemen that might number 
in the hundreds to anchor much larger and less committed forces. Such 
bands of housemen sometimes appear in contemporary records as "death 
soldiers" (sishi) or "dare-to-die soldiers" (gansishi) because of their reputed 
willingness to sacrifice their lives on behalf of their commander. Despite 
these strong ties of personal loyalty, as noted above, Suzuki maintained 
that both commanders and housemen remained under state control and 
did not pose a serious threat to the dynasty. 34 

For a variety of reasons, research on housemen all but stopped until the 
mid-1980s when scholars revisited the topic, often using new materials and 
offering new perspectives. In 1984, the Chinese scholar Xiao Xu examined 
housemen with particular attention to their development in Liaodong 
(sometimes referred to as southern Manchuria), a strategic region that 
bordered Korea, Jurchen lands (i.e., whose inhabitants would become the 
Manchus), and the eastern edge of Mongolia. 35 Like Wu Han and most 
Chinese scholars, Xiao attributed the rise of housemen to the collapse of 
the garrison system and dated it to early in the fifteenth century, when 
a portion of housemen was recruited from among the ranks of garrison 
soldiers - a practice that was not officially recognized until late in the 
century. Xiao argued, however, that the primary source of housemen was 
hired soldiers, that is, men not registered in hereditary military households 
who voluntarily undertook military service for a limited term in exchange 
for money. 

Perhaps Xiao's greatest contribution was his attention to shifting patterns 
of funding for housemen. Early housemen were privately recruited and 
privately funded by commanders. One early source of funding was the 
income derived from lands seized by military commanders, as Suzuki had 
noted. Some commanders squeezed funds allocated for garrison troops 
under their commander to support their housemen. Others resorted to 
criminal activities. Late Ming commanders such as the famed Li Chengliang 
supported themselves through war booty, horse rustling in the borderlands, 
and coercive manipulation of prices in border markets. 36 

As the number of housemen grew and their importance to dynastic 
defenses became clearer, the central government took a more prominent 
role in financing their upkeep. Xiao observed that, during the mid-sixteenth 

34 Suzuki, "Mindai katei ko", pp. 36-39. 

35 Xiao, "Mingdai jiangshuai jiading de xingshuai ji qi yingxiang". 

36 Ibid., pp. 110-111; Ma, "Mingdai de jiading", pp. 234-235. 



century, the central government gradually made explicit its commitment 
to supplying funds for food, arms, rewards, and mounts for the housemen. 
The process accelerated during the last quarter of the century until the 
costs for housemen were being figured into the annual subsidies supplied 
by the central government to cover border defenses. 37 

Although scholarly literature generally casts any deviation from the 
founding Ming emperor's policies as decline or collapse, a far better ap- 
proach is to understand such changes as flexible responses to evolving 
challenges. As one of the largest and most important imperial institutions 
in Ming China, the military was sensitive to developments in many quarters, 
from demographic trends (including not only population size but also migra- 
tion and family structure), economic transformation (including the growing 
size of regional markets and the spreading use of silver), shifting labor 
supplies, bureaucratic imperatives (such as commuting corvee labor and 
tax obligations into silver payments), and logistics needs (such as supplying 
large numbers of men far from economic centres for extended periods of 

As already noted, such annual subsidies posed an increasingly heavy 
burden on the finances of the central government. By 1590, efforts were 
afoot to cut costs by thinning the ranks of housemen, either by removing 
their weakest members or imposing strict caps on the number of housemen 
allowed for commanders of different ranks - ranging from ten to sixty. 
The most important commanders in Liaodong, including members of the 
Li family, however, ignored the new measures. The court did not push the 
issue for fear of alienating the generals in a time of dynastic crisis, and the 
restrictions became an empty writ. 38 

Xiao also offered several interesting observations on the changing nature 
of the patronage system surrounding the housemen. Xiao argued that state 
funding for the housemen often undermined the strong personal tie estab- 
lished between housemen and patrons when recruiting and support had 
been private. In some cases, personal bonds suffered from the very success of 
housemen. Xiao offered the examples of the housemen of Li Chengliang (all 
"surrendered barbarians"), who were rewarded for their battlefield exploits 
with high positions and independent commands, which in time, weakened 

37 Xiao, "Mingdai jiangshuai jiading de xingshuai ji qi yingxiang", pp. 111-112; Ma, "Mingdai de 
jiading", pp. 235-237; Zhao, "Lun Mingdai jundui zhong jiading de tidianyu diwei", p. 147. 

38 Xiao, "Mingdai jiangshuai jiading de xingshuai ji qi yingxiang", pp. 113-114; Zhao, "Lun 
Mingdai junshi jiading zhidu xingcheng de shehui jingji tiaojian jiqi fazhan", pp. 88-89. 



their ties to their patron. 39 He also noted the distinction between "in-garrison" 
and "accompanying" housemen. The former were recruited to serve for a 
designed term in a particular garrison, regardless of the comings or goings of 
individual commanders. The latter, in contrast, followed their patron, even 
into retirement when they would continue to serve and be supported by their 
commander despite his no longer holding a command. 40 Housemen who 
followed their patron in retirement might become indistinguishable from the 
servants or long-term tenants of local elites. In other cases, they comprised a 
latent pool of manpower that local and central officials attempted to mobilize 
in times of crisis. 41 For the most part, Zhao Zhongnan (see below) highlighted 
the durability of the personal ties between housemen and their patrons in 
contrast to Xiao who emphasized their provisional nature. 42 

Critics during the Ming period objected that the growth in the numbers 
of housemen ultimately did not serve dynastic interests. Drawing able men 
from the garrison troops only hastened the garrison system's collapse. The 
housemen's military successes brought their commanders dangerous power 
and ambition. The privileges housemen enjoyed eroded morale within the 
ranks of ordinary soldiers. Qi Jiguang (1528-1588), a prominent general who 
had made skilled use of housemen and mercenaries, wrote: 

Garrison soldiers' horses are given to housemen to ride; garrison 
soldiers themselves are given to housemen as servants; garrison 
soldiers' grain is given to housemen for their support. In this way, we 
secure the hearts of 200 or 300 men but completely lose the hearts of 
3,000 garrison soldiers under our command. 43 

Other officials of the late sixteenth century characterized the housemen 
as essentially parasitic, siphoning off food, labor, horses, and money from 
garrison and civilian populations. One popular jingle of the time held, "If 
you meet up with the Mongols, you'll still have your life. If you meet up 
with the housemen, you'll have nothing left." Xiao thus concluded, "The 
housemen system not only held within itself the dependency and abuses 
inherent in the garrison system, which was a tool that exploited the classes 
and oppressed the people", it added entirely new abuses. Among these he 

39 Xiao, "Mingdai jiangshuai jiading de xingshuai ji qi yingxiang", pp. 114-116. 

40 Ibid., p. 115. See also Ma, "Mingdai de jingding", pp. 229-231. 

41 Zhao, "Lun Mingdai jundui zhong jiading de tidian yu diwei", p. 147. 

42 Ibid., pp. 147-148. 

43 Qijiguang, "Deng tan kou shou", in Qi Jiguang, lian bing shijijuan 4, cited in Xiao, "Mingdai 
jiangshuai jiading", p. 117. 



included a shameless pursuit of self-interest over loyalty to commander 
or dynasty and a sharp decline in the quality of housemen by the early 
seventeenth century as men signed on for wages and commanders padded 
the rolls in order to extract more resources from the state. 

The last major essay on Ming housemen appeared nearly two decades 
ago. In 1991, Zhao Zhongnan examined the socioeconomic conditions that 
undergirded the emergence of the housemen. Building on the much earlier 
work of Suzuki Tadashi and Wang Yuquan, Zhao Zhongnan emphasized the 
centrality of shifting patterns in land tenure. The concentration of lands in 
the hands of powerful landlords during the fifteenth and especially sixteenth 
century is taken as granted by many Chinese and Japanese scholars. Zhao, 
like Suzuki, believed that military commanders used their influence to 
privatize garrison lands on a large scale, creating a revenue stream sufficient 
to support housemen and withdrawing the lands from tax registers. At the 
same time, garrison soldiers and civilian farmers lost their lands in large 
numbers, producing a pool of men in need of employment and protection. 
The result, maintained Zhao, was multiple layers of dependence that bound 
the housemen to their commanders/patrons. 44 Again following Suzuki, Zhao 
noted that the shift to mercenaries in general and housemen in particular 
depended on the partial monetization of tax and labor obligations to the 
state. 45 Finally, perhaps Zhao's most important contribution was the explicit 
discussion of regional variation or specificity in the growth of housemen. 
In this, he drew on the work of previous scholars interested in Liaodong. 46 

In addition to garrison regulars drawn from Chinese households and 
the use of hired soldiers, the Ming state drew soldiers from non-Chinese 
sources in the wider eastern Eurasian military labor market. 47 Through a 
variety of institutional mechanisms and personal connections, the Ming 
state actively recruited Mongols, Jurchens, Tibetans, Yao, Zhuang, and 
others into its military. The Ming valued such men for their specialized 
skills in riding, mounted archery, and mountaineering, their temperament 
(fierceness and indifference to cold, heat, and hunger) as "martial races", 
and the fear they inspired among others. 48 

44 Zhao, "Lun Mingdai junshi jiading zhidu", pp. 86-88. 

45 Ibid., p. 88. 

46 Ibid., pp. 88-89. 

47 For preliminary discussion of Ming efforts to integrate non-Chinese personnel into the 
garrison system, see So, "Eijo to eijogun - gunshi no senju hoho o chushin ni". 

48 A small number of Japanese laborers and warriors who fled the harsh conditions of Hidey- 
oshi's campaigns in Korea in the 1590s were also impressed into Ming military service (Swope, 
A Dragon's Head and a Serpent's Tail, p. 215). 



For the most part, such non-Chinese in the employ of the Ming state were 
settled on the northern frontier. Their leaders generally received military 
titles within the imperial Ming government commensurate with their previ- 
ous local status. On one end of the spectrum, those settled within Ming 
borders received lands, salaries, and periodic gifts from the throne. They 
were also expected to fight in imperial campaigns, usually against relatively 
nearby foes. They could expect promotions and further rewards for valor 
and success on the battlefield. Although recognized as distinct from regular 
garrison troops, these men and their families were subject to supervision by 
Ming military authorities (both local and central). Thus, while Mongol men 
might fight as a Mongol unit under a Mongol commander perhaps against 
other Mongols (but equally likely against Chinese rebels or aboriginal 
revolts), overall command remained in the hands of Chinese generals. 
Chinese bureaucrats vetted battlefield exploits, processed paperwork for 
promotions or permission to relocate, maintained household registration 
in military garrisons, and adjudicated criminal and civil legal matters. 49 

At the other end of the spectrum, Ming control was largely nominal. The 
Ming state recognized certain Jurchen leaders, granted them nominal titles 
in the Ming military, designated their polities as garrisons, and permitted 
them access to the Chinese economy through horse markets on the border 
and gift exchanges (and opportunities for private trade) during "tribute" 
missions to the capital in Beijing. Through appeals to their sense of obliga- 
tion, gratitude, and self-interest, the Ming state attempted to influence 
the behavior of Jurchen groups. Such efforts ranged from trying to ensure 
the safe passage of Korean envoys through Jurchen lands to allying with 
certain Jurchen leaders against others to prevent unification in Manchuria. 
During the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, many of the 
leading commanders in Liaodong maintained as many as several hundred 
Mongol and Jurchen warriors as housemen. Contemporary writings stressed 
their ferocity in battle, their skill in scouting, and their importance to their 
commanders' success. 50 Mongol and Jurchen leaders, however, also recruited 
Ming personnel, including military men; the rise of the Manchus (who 
would eventually conquer the Ming and establish the Qing dynasty, which 

49 Henry Serruys wrote the foundational work on the Ming Mongols. For more recent work (and 
full citation to Serruys), see Robinson, "Images of Subject Mongols under the Ming Dynasty", 
"Politics, Force, and Ethnicity". 

50 Xiao, "Mingdai jiangshuai jiading", pp. 108-109; Zhao, "Lun Mingdai jundui zhong jiading 
de tidian yu diwei", pp. 144-145. Like Wu Han, Ma Chujian noted that the practice of recruiting 
Mongols and Jurchen as mercenaries dated back to the early fifteenth century: "Mingdai de 
jiading", pp. 223-225. For the Jurchens, see Rossabi, The Jurchens in the Yuan and Ming. 



is discussed in the chapter by Christine Moll-Murata and Ulrich Theobald) 
is inseparable from this phenomenon. 51 Thus, at least on the northern 
border, the Ming state (and individual commanders) had to compete on 
an international military labor market with other prospective employers. 

Somewhere in the middle were communities of non-Chinese that were 
loosely integrated into the Ming polity and that were expected to contribute 
military forces only upon request. On the southwestern and northwestern 
peripheries, the Ming state recognized local leaders from families that had 
often held power for centuries. Recognition from the Ming throne, access 
to Chinese economic resources, and occasional recourse to Ming military 
support strengthened the position of these local leaders. However, the admin- 
istration of regions under their control was staffed by local men rather than 
officials dispatched by the central government. 52 Local populations were not 
rigorously integrated into the household registration system. One scholar has 
characterized the result as "dual sovereignty". 53 During the periodic struggles 
among local elites, incumbents and challengers might call upon Ming sup- 
port. The Ming state, however, had a poor record of exercising effective con- 
trol. Many officials argued against becoming entangled in violent struggles 
that were imperfectly understood and seldom essential to critical strategic 
interests of the dynasty. 54 However, local leaders regularly contributed units of 
men to bolster Ming imperial forces in campaigns throughout most of China. 

Finally, before turning to our common comparative axes and taxonomies, 
some discussion of the changing composition of wages is in order. Early in 
the dynasty, active-service men from hereditary military households - from 
senior officers to humble soldiers - picked up salaries in kind each month 
from imperial granaries. Dynastic regulations stipulated that each month 
a garrison commander was to receive 12 shi (each shi was equivalent to 3.1 
bushels or about 130 pounds), an assistant commander 8.5 shi, a chiliarch 
(that is, a commander of roughly 1,000 troops) 5.4 shi, a battalion com- 
mander 1.5 shi, and a common soldier 1 shi. Married soldiers with depend- 
ants generally received approximately 20 per cent to 30 per cent more than 
single soldiers without dependants. However, due to a variety of factors, 
all ranks generally received only between half and two-thirds of their 

51 Iwai, "China's Frontier Society in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries"; Wei, "Mingdai 
Menggu zhubu dui guishun Hanren de renyong jiqi junshi yingxiang". 

52 There was periodic debate about the relative advantages of staffing by local men or those 
dispatched from the central government. 

53 Herman, Amid the Clouds and Mists, pp. 105-117. 

54 Shin, The Making of the Chinese State, pp. 56-105. 



official salaries (see below). 55 Even taking into account the loss of wages 
to individual soldiers, the financial burden to the state was considerable. 
In 1373 for instance, the state distributed more than 3 million shi of grain 
just to troops in the capital at Nanjing. 56 Finally in the early decades of the 
dynasty, the state provided monthly stipends of 0.5 shi to the widows of 
soldiers, provided they did not remarry. 57 

Before I address the considerable temporal and spatial variations behind 
these figures, however, a broader picture of wages and prices provides some 
perspective on the position of military labor. As an overarching general- 
ity, garrison soldiers earned approximately the same wages as an average 
urban laborer, while officers received more. According to Ray Huang, rural 
men specially recruited by the famous general Qi Jiguang during the mid- 
sixteenth century were also "paid at the rate of day laborers". 58 Both garrison 
regulars and hired soldiers enjoyed the possibility of rewards for action on 
the battlefield such as taking enemy heads or particularly valorous acts. 

During the waning decades of the sixteenth century, servants in the 
county offices of Wanping (in Beijing) earned on average 4.2 ounces of 
silver each year, wages in rice having largely been converted to payments 
in silver. Porters, water carriers, and day laborers in the capital earned 
about the same. During the last half of the sixteenth century, 1 shi of rice 
was normally worth a bit more than half a tael of silver (but subject to 
market fluctuations especially in times of harvest failures). Clerks in the 
government offices in Wanping earned 6 dou (one dou was equivalent to 
9.9 quarts) each month but also received accommodation and furnishings. 
The income of most of the working urban population in Beijing fell between 
4 and 6 ounces of silver a year. 

Given the relatively modest wages of Ming soldiers, rewards and bonuses 
could constitute a significant addition to their routine revenue. The variety 
and scale of "gifts" from the throne are discussed below. Killing an enemy in 
battle could earn bonuses of between 10 and 30 ounces of silver - provided 
that a state official verified the circumstances of the kill and the identity 

55 Kawagoe, "DaiMin kai ten ni mieru Mindai eijokan no getsuryogaku o megutte", pp. 39-40. 

56 Okuyama, "Kobucho no men ma no shikyu ni tsuite", p. 12. 

57 Okuyama, "Minsho ni okeru gunshi no kazoku to yukyu ni tsuite". Okuyama suggests that 
as a result of government stipend incentives, the early Ming capital in Nanjing was home to a 
large number of military widows. 

58 Huang, 758/, A Year of No Significance, p. 172. Qi's men, who were recruited in southern China, 
received 10 ounces of silver a year. When they were deployed near the Great Wall in the north, 
wages increased to 18 ounces a year (ibid., p. 251 n. 67). These are prescriptive figures that do 
not take into account possible losses through corruption or administrative inefficiency. 



of the corpse. Even amounts that might seem trivial on first glance in fact 
were proportionally large. For instance, in 1510 as part of its effort to mollify 
soldiers from the northwestern garrisons of Ningxia, the court awarded 
each soldier 1 ounce of silver, a bonus amounting to approximately one 
month's wages. 59 

In terms of purchasing power, in the capital during the late sixteenth 
century, 1.3 pounds of wheat flour cost 0.008 ounces of silver; a pound of pork 
was 0.02 ounces of silver; a pound of either mutton and beef was 0.015 ounces 
of silver; a pound of pears was 0.05 ounces of silver, and eggplants cost 0.004 
ounces of silver each. 60 During the late sixteenth and early seventeenth 
centuries, a painting from the previous Song or Yuan dynasties might fetch 
anywhere from 5 to 10 ounces of silver to the astronomical figure of 1,000 
ounces. 61 

As noted above, the Ming founder hoped that military units would be 
largely self-supporting. To that end, each active-service soldier was to re- 
ceive 50 mou (1 mou was approximately 0.14 acre; 50 mou was about 7 acres) 
of land, which he shared with other male immediate family members of the 
original military household who had traveled with him. The active-service 
soldier was to keep half of the harvest to support himself and his family; 
the rest was to be turned over to garrison authorities. In reality, variation 
in the quality and availability of land ensured that soldiers received plots of 
different sizes. On the northern border, where soil was relatively poor and 
the population relatively sparse, and where this arrangement was intended 
as a way to stimulate agricultural development, a soldier might farm 70 or 
80 mou (approximately 10 and 11 acres, respectively), whereas in places like 
the southeast with more productive lands and less land available, he might 
receive only 20 mou (less than 3 acres). 

During the first half of the fifteenth century, the amount of grain that the 
state derived from these lands (nominally half the production) fluctuated 
sharply. One Japanese scholar has documented a dramatic drop from ap- 
proximately 20 million shi (62 million bushels or 1.3 million tons) to 5 million 
shi (325,000 tons) in the two decades between 1403 and 1424. After a brief 
rise to 9 million shi, by 1434, the figure seems to have dropped to 2 million. 
Thus within the space of thirty years, the revenue from farmlands available 

59 Ming Wuzong shilu, 62.ioa-i2a; 67.1b. However, to put this into perspective, one senior court 
minister received 100 ounces of silver for his contribution to putting down the same abortive 
princely revolt. See Li, "Zou wei ci mian en ming shi", II, pp. 518-519. 

60 These figures come from Geiss, "Peking under the Ming (1368-1644)", pp. 156, 177-189. 

61 Clunas, Appendix II, "Selected Prices for Works of Art and Antique Artifacts c. 1560-1620". 



for soldiers' salaries dropped by go per cent. 62 It is unclear, however, whether 
this was merely the amount transported to the capital or if it included the 
amount received locally by the garrison administration. After all, there had 
to be sufficient grain available locally for the garrisons to feed the troops. 

The government responded in several ways, depending on the nature of 
the local economy and the particular needs of the moment. In economically 
developed regions, commercial taxes were used to pay military salaries. For 
instance, in affluent Jiading, a portion of commercial taxes civil authorities 
assessed on shop fronts went to salaries in nearby Taicang and Zhenjiang 
Garrisons. As noted above, salaries for soldiers on the northern border were 
often subsidized by generous annual payments from the central government. 

A related question is the nature of wages. The Ming founder set salaries 
in rice. Rice does not grow equally well in all places (and not at all along the 
northern border mentioned above), is expensive to transport overland because 
of its weight, and is subject to rotting if not properly stored. Thus, some kind of 
conversion, if only into other grains or beans, had always been in place. By the 
early fifteenth century, the Ming state began to commute a portion of monthly 
wages into paper currency. Thus for example, a garrison commander who drew 
a monthly salary of 10 ski might receive 80 per cent in rice; the state would then 
convert the value of the remaining 2 shi of rice into paper money. During the 
Ming (unlike the Yuan period), however, paper money never really caught on. 
In fact, it rapidly and consistently lost value. Hence, even partial commutation 
of wages into paper currency was not popular among military families for 
obvious reasons. During the 1430s, one source of resentment against Mongol 
officers stationed in Beijing was that they received their entire salary in rice. 

In response to these complaints, by the mid-fifteenth century, the Ming 
state often commuted a portion of military salaries into items such as cotton 
textiles, black pepper, and other spices. By the mid-sixteenth century, the 
commutation of salaries into silver became increasingly common. 

Shifting military challenges shaped wages. Okuyama Norio has shown 
that the Ming state's deployment of large numbers of troops to the northern 
border for an extended period of time in the wake of the Tumu defeat of 1449 
deeply influenced soldiers' wages. As noted above, soldiers normally received 
their salaries, whether in grain, cash, or otherwise, from the granaries of 
the garrisons in which they served. During short-term deployments, to the 
northern border for instance, local border garrisons would pay them "travel 
wages" until they returned home. Dependants, who did not accompany 

62 Kawagoe Yasuhiro, "DaiMin kai ten ni mieru Mindai eijokan no getsuryogaku o megutte", 
PP- 39-40. 



soldiers on such tours, continued to draw the monthly salary at the home 
garrison granaries. When, in an effort to meet the Mongol challenge, the 
Ming state deployed tens of thousands of soldiers from hinterland garrisons 
to the north for years at a time, several problems emerged. 

Particularly serious was the question of dependants. Soldiers often 
returned home to visit their families, with or without permission. To 
ameliorate such a problem, the state experimented with having family 
dependants accompany soldiers and officers to their new posts rather than 
remain in their original garrison unit. Another problem was that the men's 
regular salaries were still disbursed at their original garrisons. Traveling 
back and forth to pick up their wages was time-consuming and expensive. 
Some who returned home to pick up their wages did not return to their 
new assignments. Commanders along the northern border (and in the 
southern theater where Ming armies were periodically deployed to suppress 
aboriginal uprisings) successfully petitioned the throne to allow men to 
receive their monthly wages from granaries wherever they were currently 
deployed. For this measure to work, border garrisons (and smaller forts) 
needed to build and then fill new granaries. The construction of granaries 
was the easy part; securing sufficient grain on an ongoing basis proved 
more challenging. Administrative measures were also needed to ensure 
that wages were not paid twice. 

As noted above, transporting grain overland was expensive and time- 
consuming, so garrisons experimented with a number of alternate strategies. 
One was more extensive use of commutation into items that could be easily 
transported - yet families still needed to eat. Another was for garrisons to 
dispatch officers to travel to the major granaries and storehouses of the 
capital and elsewhere to pick up grain on behalf of the entire garrison; 
sell it locally in order to purchase things like salt, pepper, etc.; and finally 
transport these goods back to the local garrison. There, soldiers would 
receive the goods as salary and sell them in order to purchase the goods 
they needed. For most soldiers, the various commutations undermined their 
economic positions. In still other cases, a mixed approach was adopted. For 
instance, soldiers from one garrison on the border received 80 per cent of 
their salaries in grain. The remaining 20 per cent was commuted to cash, 
which during the first six months of the year, they could pick up at local 
government offices. During the second half of the year, 20 per cent of their 
salary was commuted to pepper and other spices, which they had to get in 
specialized storehouses in the capital. 63 

63 This section is drawn from Okuyama, "Mingun no kyuyo shikyu ni tsuite", pp. 133-143. 



At the same time that the Ming military responded to shifting economic, 
demographic, and administrative needs, it also transformed China. Econom- 
ic historians have pointed out that the network required to supply northern 
frontier garrisons with goods from the south was one of the central factors 
shaping the entire Ming economy, including its banking and monetization. 

Sixteenth-century officials were acutely aware that commuting soldiers' 
salaries into silver subjected them to fluctuations in the price of grain. 
Many reported to the throne that 1 shi of grain was commonly converted 
into 0.7 taels of silver, sufficient to purchase only 0.6 or 0.7 shi of rice on the 
market. In some cases, the rate was as low as 0.2 shi, a loss of 80 per cent 
of the nominative value of soldiers' salaries. Officials debated how to best 
address this vulnerability to price variation and impoverishment of military 
families. In 1538, the court approved plans to adjust rates of commutation 
according to grain prices. However, throughout the rest of the sixteenth 
century, the problem persisted. Either adjustments lagged too far behind 
market changes or local officials were reluctant to break from established 
conversion rates. Another solution was a partial return to payment in kind, 
most commonly with soldiers receiving rice for three months of the year 
and silver for the remaining nine months. 64 

Local officials, individual military commanders and court ministers 
worked to address questions as they arose and showed considerable flex- 
ibility in their approach to the economic and military challenges posed 
by changes in determining, funding, and distributing soldiers' wages. As 
one might expect given the larger socioeconomic changes transforming 
China, however, there was no simple solution that perfectly matched the 
demands of the state with the needs of its military personnel. Throughout 
the sixteenth century, soldiers (and their officers) periodically organized 
protests, especially in garrisons along the northern border, almost always 
in response to state actions that undercut their economic interests. These 
ranged from short-term and poorly coordinated cases, where violence 
was limited to screaming in the night and the threat of more, to military 
uprisings that lasted for months and required large-scale responses from 
the central government. 65 

64 Okuyama, "Mindai no hokuhen ni okeru gunji no getsuryo ni tsuite", pp. 155-162. 

65 In 1509-1510, riots and at least one mutiny greeted the court's efforts to reassess tax rates on 
military farmlands (Robinson, "Princely Revolts and the Ming Polity"). For discussion of mutinies 
in Liaodong in 1535, see Morohoshi, "Mindai Ryoto no gunton ni kansuru ichi kosatsu", "Ryoto 
heihen to Ro Kei". On the mid-century mutinies in Datong, see Hagiwara, "Mindai Kaseiki no 
Daito hanran to Mongoria". On the 1592-1593 Ningxia mutiny, see Okano, "Banreki nijunen Neiha 
heihen"; Swope, "All Men Are Not Brothers". 



Variables, axes, taxonomies, and hypothesis 

Zhao Zhongnan has been among the few scholars to discuss the legal status 
of housemen. He argues that although they may have enjoyed a superior 
social status as measured in terms of their salaries and privileges granted 
by their patrons, they possessed the same legal status as garrison troops. 
The Ming Code, the imperial legal code of the Ming dynasty, distinguished 
between those registered in civilian households and men registered in 
hereditary military households, most especially active-service soldiers. 
Zhao points to a regulation in the Collected Administrative Statutes of the 
Great Ming Dynasty, which stipulates that housemen were subject to the 
same Grand Reviews conducted by senior officials in the Chief Military 
Commission and Ministry of War that tested skills in riding and archery. 
He also notes that when their patrons were demoted, exiled, or suffered 
punitive beatings, housemen were subject to similar punishments. 66 This is 
a promising line of inquiry but Zhao's evidence here is far from compelling 
in terms of legal status. The Great Ming Code did not make garrison soldiers 
culpable for the transgressions of their commanding officers. Nor did it 
demand troops to follow their commander into exile. 

The legal status of those registered in hereditary military households, 
in contrast, was clearer. They had an obligation to provide lifetime (or at 
least from the mid- to late teens to around 60) military service to the state, 
which in turn entitled them to regular wages (however inadequate), the use 
of government lands for farming for their own or accompanying families 
(though the probability of securing such lands diminished over the course 
of the dynasty), some tax and corvee breaks, and the possibility of medical 
care and economic assistance if they fell ill or were injured. 67 Maintaining 
the massive garrison system, including its affiliated operations such as 
garrison schools, military examinations, training, benefits for widowed 
wives and/or orphaned children, etc., registration, and the voluminous 
paperwork required to keep things functioning, was difficult and costly. 

The Ming state, like the previous Yuan dynasty, consciously followed a 
policy that kept large numbers of men formally registered in military house- 

66 Zhao, "Lun Mingdai jundui zhong jiading de tidian yu diwei", p. 148. 

67 Regional variation marked the availability of medicine and quality of doctors for garrisons, 
as an official from the northwestern frontier of the empire complained in 1438 (Ming Yingzong 
shilu, 37.8a). Nonetheless, the state was expected to provide such resources even for distant 
border units. 



holds. 68 As noted above, this was done to maintain a broad and stable labor 
pool that could be used not only for defending the dynasty (e.g., guarding 
frontier borders, maintaining internal security, and suppressing revolts) but 
also for maintaining its infrastructure (e.g., transporting tax grain, construct- 
ing city walls, repairing dikes and other water works, etc.). This vast dynastic 
labor reservoir also served a prophylactic function; it absorbed men who 
might otherwise contribute to rival labor pools, such as criminal bands, rebel 
groups, or transnational communities, which challenged the Ming state. 

Few contemporary observers, however, viewed these arrangements as 
either foolproof or static. In their discussions of the military, Ming com- 
mentators regularly invoked the phrase "In terms of soldiers, quality is more 
precious than quantity." Writing in the late sixteenth century, the historian 
Lang Ying complained: 

Today the military is no fewer than 1 million men and there are more 
than 200,000 in the capital. This can be said to be ample. Yet, when a 
region has a crisis, then troops are deployed from the Capital Gar- 
risons, Datong, and Yulin [border regions]. Each time they are killed in 
great numbers. High ministers devote themselves to papering things 
over. When compared to the ancients who with several thousand men 
would decimate the enemy and with several tens of thousands were 
unbeatable wherever they turned, they were really no match. Today we 
can say that we have no military. 69 

Elsewhere, Lang turned his attention to the comparative efficacy of hired 
soldiers and imperial regulars. He wrote that in antiquity the establishment 
of an army was to prevent disaster, but that in his day the establishment of 
the army was a disaster. He argued that garrison troops contributed nothing 
to the defense of the dynasty or the people. In cases of conflict, those who 
actually engaged the enemy were either local commoners or hired soldiers 
from other provinces. Similarly, those who died at the hands of the enemy 
were either male and female subjects from the area or those recruited 

68 Although the even earlier Song dynasty (960-1279) did not employ the hereditary military 
household system, it did maintain extremely large armies at great expense in an effort to impose 
effective control over portions of the population that might otherwise challenge state authority 
or at least local government. The state also frequently turned to its armies as a general source 
of labor for infrastructure projects. 

69 Lang, "San wu", p. 154; Ming edn held at Zhongshan Library, i3.iob-na; reprinted in Si ku 
quan shu cun mu cong shu, zi 102, p. 545. The entry was entitled "Three Nones", referring to no 
music, no history, and no military. 



from elsewhere. Thus, the dynasty shouldered the burden of supporting 
garrison troops without gaining any defense for the people. Lang proposed 
that the state hold Grand Reviews, where garrison troops would compete 
with hired soldiers in archery and other events. If the garrison troops won, 
they would receive half the money used to pay hired soldiers. If the hired 
soldiers won, half the grain used to pay garrison troops would be used to 
hire more soldiers. 70 Lang's views suggest that in addition to socioeconomic 
changes, shifting elite attitudes toward the worth of the hereditary military 
household system may have facilitated the growing use of hired soldiers. 

Taxonomy of armies 

The Ming military does not fit easily into our taxonomy of feudal army, 
aggregate contract army, state commission army, conscript army, and mod- 
ern volunteer army (or John Lynn's slightly wider taxonomy from which I 
draw). Some elements of the Ming case resemble the state commission army. 
These include raising the army from among the ruler's subjects and in the 
case of hired troops, the role of officers in recruiting troops, and enlisting 
voluntarily as individuals. 71 Yet, the core of the Ming army at least through 
1500 was the hereditary military households and its garrisons. These units 
were not recruited by officers but served on a compulsory basis by specially 
designated households that legally owed the state military labor. 

In other ways, the garrison system might be seen as a sort of mass reserve 
army in that most of the time most soldiers spent their time farming rather 
than drilling or fighting. During a time of war, armies were assembled from 
the ranks of garrison troops and augmented through hired soldiers and/ 
or aboriginal forces. Yet, garrison troops generally lived in or near garrison 
forts and cities, received wages and benefits from the imperial govern- 
ment, and were subject to bureaucratic and legal treatment distinctive to 
hereditary military households. 

At the risk of sounding a discordant note in our common enterprise, I 
would suggest that assigning the Ming a place within a taxonomy explicitly 
derived from the historical particulars of western Europe (and its projec- 
tions) probably obscures more than it illuminates. Large central states 
emerged early in China: they developed fully articulated bureaucracies, 
demonstrated the ability to extract considerable resources (labor, material, 

70 Lang, Jin rijun, II, pp. 660-661. 

71 Lynn, "The Evolution of Army Style in the Modern West", p. 518. 



and money) from enormous populations that pursued diversified economic 
and social strategies, and possessed advanced technological and logistical 
(including military) capabilities. They predated the rise of "nation-states" 
in Europe by many centuries. The lack of anything comparable to the 
European aristocracy (after the tenth century), the early and sustained 
dominance of the imperial throne in the political and ideological realms, 
and the lack of contending paradigmatic armies (which is not the same 
as the disinclination or inability to adapt new technologies or methods) 
meant that many of the critical causal factors implicit in our taxonomy 
are less germane than they are in the case of western Europe. This is not 
to argue for a distinctive Oriental warfare per se but to acknowledge that 
the development of the Chinese military followed a different trajectory or 
at least a different chronology (certainly prior to 1800) than the one Lynn 
identified (and which he explicitly described as "a cultural and geographical 
pattern unique to the West"). 72 Given that we are attempting to provide a 
global perspective on military labor, we should not reduce the rich diversity 
of historical experience of places such as China, Russia, or India to schemata 
derived from the recent "West". The more pressing task would seem to be 
to reformulate our ideas in the light of new research and a wider body of 
empirical information. 73 Even allowing for such caveats, some of our other 
terms of comparison have clear applicability for the Chinese case. 

Free/unfree labor 

On first blush, soldiers registered in hereditary military households would 
seem in most ways to fall into the category of unfree labor. They spent the 
vast majority of their time as tenant farmers on government-allocated lands 
and were subject to life service in the ranks of the imperial military. They 
did not enter into this service voluntarily; it was a hereditary responsibil- 
ity of the household into which they were born. To abandon their lands, 
leave their posts, or avoid their burdens was to invite harsh disciplinary 
retribution by the Ming state. 

72 Ibid., p. 506. Different trajectories do not preclude comparisons. For a systematic compara- 
tive study of the "military revolution" in Asia, see Lorge, The Asian Military Revolution. Lorge 
argues that European military systems and possibly governmental institutions needed "to 
become more Chinese before they could take full advantage of guns" (p. 21). 

73 For calls to integrate greater historical depth and geographical variety into understandings 
of labor and migration, see Van der Linden, Workers of the World, pp. 1-6; Hoerder, Cultures in 
Contact, pp. 8-14; Lucassen, et at, Migration History in World History, pp. 7-17. 



However, when we use terms such as "free" and "unfree" labor, we must 
remember that from its earliest days, the hereditary household system was 
porous. Escape was possible through illegal means such as bribes, false 
registration, self-maiming, and desertion. More importantly, the natural 
growth in the size of families meant that, over time, the relative burden of 
military service for the entire family diminished. It might pose a debilitat- 
ing burden for an individual man or even his immediate family, but most 
members of the extended family would not feel the pinch at all, especially 
if they were located hundreds of miles apart. In fact, through success in 
business, the civil service examination, or crime, they could put substantial 
distance between themselves and relatives who served in military garrisons 
or in military agricultural colonies. Further complicating the situation was 
the fact that many soldiers simultaneously pursued other forms of employ- 
ment, which ranged from the sale of their military skills and equipment to 
private patrons, to menial labor in roadside eateries. It is tempting then to 
see them as what Marcel van der Linden has termed "subaltern workers". 74 

Hired soldiers during the Ming should be considered free labor. These 
included both men who served in militias organized by county magistrates 
or local elites and those who offered their services as military retainers or 
housemen for imperial generals or civil officials. Men who fought for illicit 
groups such as bandits, pirates, and rebels might include both free and 
unfree labor, depending on the degree and variety of coercion involved in 
recruitment and retention. 

Commodified/noncommodified labor 

As many scholars have shown, conceptions of labor and wages have varied 
significantly according to time and place. Although at one level, commodi- 
fied labor may be understood as a purely financial transaction whereby one 
party remunerates another party for his or her time, skill, and productive 
labor, such relations are embedded in larger social, cultural, and religious 
structures. Thus, it is not surprising to read in contemporary Ming sources 
that the imperial throne periodically "bestowed gifts" of gold, silver, paper 

74 For insightful comments on the assumptions implicit in common notions of social classes, 
see Van der Linden, Workers of the World, pp. 28-32. Van der Linden stresses the grey areas 
between social classes, that most subaltern worker households combined several modes of 
labor, and that individual subaltern workers often "combined different modes of labor, both 
synchronically and diachronically" (p. 32). 



currency, bolts of cotton, winter gowns, shoes, or even pepper upon its sol- 
diers. The scale of the payments was frequently enormous and represented 
a sizeable if to date poorly analyzed portion of soldiers' remuneration from 
the state. As an illustrative if randomly selected example, let us consider 
the summer of 1388 during the early days of the dynasty. In June the em- 
peror gave more than 209,300 soldiers and officers from Suzhou and other 
southern garrisons in excess of 109,900 taels of gold and silver, 30,000 taels 
in paper currency, and 307,600 bolts of cloth. 75 Little more than two weeks 
later, the court announced rewards of 46,000 in cash, 255,000 bolts of cot- 
ton textiles, and 174,300 pounds of cotton fabric for approximately 153,000 
troops from the northern garrisons of Beiping, Jizhou, and elsewhere. 76 In 
July, the throne again announced gifts for nearly 200,000 soldiers in the 
Fuzhou garrisons and almost 160,000 troops in the Fujian garrisons. 77 

Such gifts from the throne represented a considerable transfer of wealth 
to military personnel. One study has calculated that between 1369 and 1374 
the throne issued 1 million taels of silver in gifts. Between 1368 and 1391, 
Hongwu ordered the distribution of more than 12 million bolts of cotton 
textiles, 3 million pounds of cotton, and 1.7 million sets of clothing as gifts. 
Approximately 80 per cent of such gifts went to the military. 78 

This rhetoric of imperial munificence owed something to Hongwu's 
consistent efforts to establish authority and control in all facets of Ming 
life. He adopted the pose of a generous patriarch who cared for his people, 
including his warriors. Imperial mercy and munificence were to be recip- 
rocated with gratitude, loyalty, and the desire to "repay the dynasty" {bao 
guo, bao xiao). The rhetoric of reciprocal obligations was not restricted to 
the ruler and his military but formed a pervasive element of contempo- 
rary conceptions of social life, religious practice, and political behavior. 
It is worth remembering that the army was of crucial importance to the 
fledgling regime. To the degree that we are interested in Van der Linden's 
question of "which perceptions do the actors on the stage of history have 
of the reality that surrounds them, of themselves, and [of] each other", it 
is important not to dismiss gifts from our consideration of military labor 
relations. 79 Occasional gifts from the emperor, in contrast to regular wages 
in cash and kind distributed by garrison authorities, were intended to forge 

75 Ming Taizu shilu, 190.4a. 

76 Ibid., 190.5b. 

77 Ibid., 191.3b. 

78 Okuyama, "Kobucho no men ma no shikyu ni tsuite", pp. 1-3. 

79 Van der Linden, Workers of the World, p. 371. 



a direct tie between the Son of Heaven and humble soldiers, regardless of 
how tenuous that bond may have been in reality. 

At the same time, Hongwu was fully aware that many officers treated 
their troops poorly and repeatedly reminded his commanders that they 
owed their success to the efforts of the common soldier. 80 Battles were won 
not through the individual heroics of generals but through soldiers' loyalty 
to their commanders and their willingness to risk their lives in combat. To 
win such loyalty, commanders had to care for the material needs of their 
men on a regular basis. 81 Even in a political system as efficient and central- 
ized as Ming China, and even with his exceptional power, Hongwu had no 
choice but to rely on many intermediate levels of administration to collect 
and distribute wages, supplies, and even his gifts to the dynasty's soldiers. 
For this reason, he tried again and again to convince the officer corps that 
good treatment of the troops, including the fair and timely distribution of 
wages, was integral to advancing their own self-interest. 82 

For later Ming rulers who lacked the charisma of the dynastic founder, 
such demonstrations of imperial munificence could be even more critical. 
Midway through the dynasty in 1521, the newly enthronedjiajing emperor, 
eager to secure the loyalty of his military, announced his intention to bestow 
2 taels of silver on each border soldier in recognition of their hardships. After 
consultation with the Ministry of War and commanding officers from the 
border, the court disbursed 743,812 taels of silver to 371,906 men. 83 In April 
1521, his cousin and predecessor the Zhengde emperor had died without 
an heir or a designated successor. Desperate consultations between senior 
court ministers and the Empress Dowager led to the choice of Jiajing, a 
complete outsider to the capital and court politics. The new emperor and 
his advisors purged the court of many prominent military generals who 
had enjoyed privileged access to the late emperor. Some of these military 
men had originally hailed from border garrisons such as Liaodong, Datong, 
and Xuanfu. Thus, Jiajing no doubt considered the massive sum of nearly 
750,000 taels of silver a smart investment in his future. 

Remuneration as gift-giving was not restricted to emperors. As Arthur 
Waldron has noted, nearly one-third of one early sixteenth-century official's 

80 Two of eight injunctions issued on one occasion in August 1388 by Hongwu to his military 
commanders related directly to treating their men with benevolence and not inflicting injury 
on them (Ming Taizu shilu, 193.5a). 

81 Ibid., igi.3b-4b. 

82 Ibid., ig2.2b-3a. 

83 Ming Shizong shitu, 3.2a-b. 



budget for wall-building was dedicated to gifts for troops. 84 Magistrates and 
men of local standing similarly appealed to the rhetoric of gift-giving in 
the context of securing military labor. In times of crisis when men of either 
governmental or social authority needed to quickly raise levies of men for 
local militias, they held large banquets for which they would slaughter cows 
and provide liquor to recruits. The hope was that by showing their social 
inferiors such honor and respect, elites would secure the men's gratitude 
and obedience, at least long enough to ride out the crisis. Accounts of 
banquet-giving are often accompanied by efforts to raise funds to pay for 
the recruits. Scattered accounts indicate that the magistrate or man of local 
standing might sell off a portion of his personal assets to generate cash to 
be used as wages. The nitty-gritty details of exactly how the men arranged 
such transactions and with whom are rarely available. 

The use of banquets to secure the allegiance of men able and willing 
to provide military service was not restricted to men employed by or sup- 
porting the state. Rebels, brigands, and other men of violence used exactly 
the same methods to create bonds of patron and client or, in terms more 
recognizable to men of the day, older and younger brother, lord and follower. 
The enormously popular sixteenth-century vernacular novel Heroes of the 
Water Marsh (Shut hu zhuan) describes scores of greater and lesser such 
banquets. In addition to the obvious social dimensions of these banquets, 
they also served as an economic marker. Only a patron of some economic 
resources could hold a sufficiently generous banquet that would allow 
conspicuous consumption of meat and drink. It was also understood that 
the host, whether magistrate, man of local standing, or aspiring brigand 
chief, would retain the services of his men only so long as he continued to 
pay them. 

In addition to regular wages paid in money and/or grain and periodic 
gifts of cash, clothing, or food items, soldiers received special rewards for 
their exploits on the battlefield. Ming troops who killed enemy soldiers 
were eligible for rewards in silver or promotion. To prove their claims, Ming 
troops were required to present the decapitated head of the enemy to civil 
officials, who were responsible both for verifying that the head belonged 
to an enemy combatant rather than, say, a civilian and for submitting the 
paperwork. Early in the sixteenth century, the posted reward for an enemy 
head along the northern border was 50 taels of silver. Private markets in 
places such as Liaodong, however, sold decapitated enemy heads, a practice 

84 Waldron, The Great Wall of China, p. 133. 



that the imperial government tried without success to eliminate. 85 Rates 
for decapitated heads taken from the hinterlands or from the southern 
border were generally lower. The thinking was that they were taken from 
less fearsome foes. 

To summarize, the Ming military labor market might be characterized 
as flexible and segmented. A portion of military labor, those registered in 
hereditary military households, was unfree insofar as such men were legally 
bound to offer military service to the state for their entire adult life, barring 
incapacitating injury, premature death, or dismissal for misbehavior or 
incompetence. However, it should be remembered that, even within heredi- 
tary military households, only a small proportion of men were called upon 
to render military (or other) labor to the state. Furthermore, in exchange 
for their labor, they received wages in goods and cash. 

Hired soldiers, whether engaged for short or long terms, should be 
considered free labor and commodified labor. They were paid primarily 
in cash by the imperial government, local officials, or private influential 
elites. However, part of their "compensation package" regularly included 
additional "gifts" such as food, wine, and/or clothing. These gifts were es- 
sential in the formation of bonds of loyalty and reciprocal obligation. As 
incentives, the state also offered cash bonuses and promotions to both 
garrison regulars and hired soldiers. 

Remuneration for the third variety of Ming military labor, aboriginal 
troops, is less clear but perhaps best understood as a variant of Lynn's feudal 
or aggregate contract army in the following sense. Aboriginal warriors 
might owe military service to tribal leaders, who in turn owed military 
service to the Ming state. Thus, the Ming state in effect contracted en- 
tire contingents of aboriginal warriors rather than recruiting individual 
members. Aboriginal leaders, of course, expected remuneration from the 
Ming state. Higher titles, gifts (in cash and kind) from the throne, and field 
provisions were clearly part of the arrangement between the Ming state 
and aboriginal leaders. Scattered evidence suggests that aboriginal forces 
too were subject to the trend to commute supplies and wages to silver. In 
the mid-sixteenth century, aboriginal troops from the southwest deployed 
to fight piracy along the affluent eastern coastal regions received 80 per 
cent of the value of their allocation of rice, fresh vegetables, and fuel for 
cooking in silver. 86 Far less clear is whether the Ming state offered additional 

85 Ming Shizong shilu, 3.11a. 

86 Xujie, "Bi jian shi yi tiao", in Xu, Shijing tangji, 23.23b (Wanli edn held at Beijing University 
Library; reprinted in Si ku quan shu cun mu cong shuji bu, LXXX, p. 103). 



cash payments. The nature of labor relations and compensation between 
tribal leaders and aboriginal warriors is perhaps the most opaque part of 
the equation. Thus, on the questions of free/unfree and commodified/ 
noncommodified labor, further research is needed. 

Deciding factors in Ming military labor relations 

With the exceptions of Suzuki Tadashi and Zhao Zhongnan, scholars 
have shown limited interest in relating the rise of housemen (or any other 
developments in the military) to wider socioeconomic developments. 87 By 
the mid-fifteenth century, the Ming economy, including the assessment 
and collection of taxes, had become partially monetized. Labor obligations 
to the state could often be met through the payment of silver. 88 Changes 
within the garrison system ultimately resulted from wider social develop- 
ments. Although Wu Han, Xiao Xu, and others were no doubt correct to 
draw attention to widespread corruption within the garrison system, the 
entire hereditary household system - whether military, saltern, mining, 
craftsmen, etc. - came to exercise a less direct influence on individual 
families. People moved, families diversified their economic activities and 
raised their social aspirations. This was less dynastic decline than a natural 
sloughing off of administrative institutions inherited from the Mongol 
empire, institutions that better reflected the interests and perspectives 
of the Mongol elite than the realities of China's society or economy. The 
growth of housemen and mercenaries of all kinds should be seen as part 
and parcel of the overall trend toward the monetization of the economy, 
particularly service and labor. 89 

However, obligations imposed by the Ming state never vanished alto- 
gether. Indeed, hereditary obligations linked to household registration 
during the early Ming could exercise a profound influence on household and 
lineage strategies. In an excellent case study based on the particulars of the 
southeastern province of Fujian, Michael Szonyi has observed, "informally, 

87 For another exception, see Qiu, "Mingdai zhongqianqi junfei gongji tedian de xingcheng 
yu yanbian". 

88 Heijdra, "The Socio-Economic Development of Rural China during the Ming". 

89 Of course, private retainers and mercenaries were a longstanding feature of Chinese history, 
dating back to the earliest imperial dynasties of the classical period (second century BC). See 
Ma, "Mingdai de jiading", pp. 193-194. Monetization frequently undermined accepted social 
hierarchies, which produced considerable unease among some Ming elite men. For a broad 
treatment, see Brook, The Confusions of Pleasure. 



military-registered households hired mercenaries themselves to fulfill their 
obligations". He argues that "the Ming state's military and taxation systems 
drove groups of kin to organize themselves". 90 

Contemporary observers were fully aware that the dynastic military 
system was inextricably tied to wider socioeconomic developments. Propos- 
als were floated to monetize elements of military obligation to the state. 
For instance, the "purification of troops", that is, tracking down and/or 
replacement of missing soldiers, was laborious, expensive, and inefficient. 
Some officials argued that a more effective policy would be to collect a fee in 
silver from households who "owed" an active-service soldier to the state - in 
the same way that households or communities that owed labor to the state 
could commute the responsibility into silver payments (a transformation 
nearly complete by the 1460s for some categories of service). 91 Deep concern 
about the importance of the hereditary garrison system to the political, 
economic, and military foundations of the dynasty, however, stymied any 
fundamental reform. 

This monetization did occur with some forms of military service. The 
most obvious example was the decision to hire hundreds of thousands 
of soldiers to augment hereditary garrison forces discussed in the first 
section of the paper as a response to the battle of Tumu in 1449. The people's 
stalwarts also witnessed a high degree of monetization. During the 1430s, 
local administrators in various parts of the dynasty had begun to draft men 
into local constabularies called people's stalwarts, that is, they were not 
members of military households. Following the debacle at Tumu, people's 
stalwarts were recruited in far larger numbers and their duties expanded to 
include military functions, which in some cases meant incorporation into 
garrison units. 92 By the end of the fifteenth century, the court formalized 
the policy and issued orders for its empire-wide implementation. 93 After 
experimenting with both conscription and hiring, many local magistrates 
concluded that hiring military labor yielded better results than did coercive 
recruiting. 94 The result was that the service levy appeared as a line item in 

90 Szonyi, Practicing Kinship, pp. 61 and 23. 

91 For a brief discussion and citations to relevant scholarship, see Wu (Go), Min Shin jidai no 
yoekiseido to chiho gyosei, pp. 187-192. 

92 Kawagoe, "Sokoki no minsosei ni tsuite". 

93 Scholars debate the precise year. Saeki Tomi dates the national policy to 1489. See Saeki, 
"Min Shin jidai no minso ni tsuite", p. 35. Ray Huang sees 1494 as the year it became dynastic 
policy. See Huang, Taxation and Governmental Finance in Sixteenth-Century China, p. 111. 

94 Kawagoe stresses the importance of conscription during the 1450S-1480S ("Sokoki no 
minsosei ni tsuite", pp. 26-27). 



local budgets, as say, forty people's stalwarts, with between 2 and 10 taels 
of silver designated for each man's pay. 95 By 1500 or so, the silver to hire 
militiamen was regularly apportioned across the local population, in the 
form of either a land or a poll tax. 9 * 5 Estimates of how many people's stalwarts 
were hired vary, but the scale was considerable - somewhere between 
200,000 and 300,000 during the sixteenth century. 97 One consequence of 
this policy was to increase the variability or elasticity of local budgets. In 
times of military crisis, county and prefectural governments needed to hire 
more militiamen quickly, which in turn necessitated a hike in local taxes 
that were paid in silver. 98 

Similarly, the military grain-transport system was subject to larger 
changes within the Ming economy. The late fifteenth-century reforms rep- 
resented a form of monetization. Prior to this time, some farmers had been 
responsible for transporting tax grain to the capital, a duty that became far 
more onerous when the capital was moved to the north. Now, they instead 
paid a fee to local authorities and the military moved the grain. 99 During 
the sixteenth century, the grain-transport soldiers ceased to serve much if 
any military function. During the early fifteenth century, personnel had 
been drawn from the pool of active-service garrison soldiers; by the 1430s, 
"supernumerary soldiers", the men whose function was to aid active-service 
soldiers, were used in large numbers; by 1500, men completely outside the 
hereditary military households were increasingly hired as replacements. 
This last group of men often comprised men who were sailors and trans- 
port workers by trade. Men in the military grain-transport corps were not 
expected to drill, nor were they expected to be proficient with arms. 100 

Finally, the monetization of the economy, including many different kinds 
of corvee labor due to the state, on this scale in turn was sustainable only 
through Ming China's integration into the global economy, most particularly 
the steady flow of silver from Spanish mines in the New World. 101 

95 Estimates for wages are from Saeki, "Min Shinjidai no minso ni tsuite", pp. 53-59. People's 
stalwarts might win additional bonuses for noteworthy service or be subject to fines for failing 
to meet their quotas of, for instance, smugglers. 

96 Ibid., p. 48. 

97 Saeki Tomi (ibid.) suggests 300,000, while Liang Fangzhong prefers 200,000. See Liang, 
"Mingdai de minbing", Zhongguo shehuijingjishijikan, 5.2 (1937), pp. 200-234; reprinted in Wu, 
Mingshiyanjiu luncong, I, p. 266. 

98 Huang, Taxation and Governmental Finance in Sixteenth-Century China, pp. 111-112, 126. 

99 Lin, "Mingdai caojunzhi chutan", p. 187. 

100 Ibid., pp. 191-192. 

101 The literature on silver and the Ming economy is voluminous. For a convenient point of 
entry, see Atwell, "Ming China and the Emerging World Economy". 



If changes in the Ming economy, particularly a trend toward monetiza- 
tion, deeply shaped military labor relations, the highly fluid Chinese military 
labor market also explains much. Nearly all commentators, whether capital 
ministers, provincial authorities, county magistrates, or local elites, took 
for granted that substantial numbers of men could be mobilized quickly for 
military service. When a dangerous princely revolt occurred in 1519, rather 
than depend on garrison forces, the well-known literatus Wang Yangming 
(1472-1529) sought his troops locally, recruiting 2,000 to 3,000 men from 
small counties and 4,000 to 5,000 men from large counties as a way to raise 
an army quickly. The state provided provisions but the recruits supplied 
their own weapons. 102 During the piracy crisis of the mid-sixteenth century, 
one official, Zheng Xiao, offered the following proposal: "We should search 
out and recruit ten men who are adept in martial arts. Each of them shall 
instruct one hundred men. After one month, again have each one teach ten 
men. Thus we will able to secure ten thousand men." 103 Although the official 
expected that training would be necessary, he had no doubt about the pool 
of men available. The initial training in this case, it should be noted, was 
to be provided neither by the state nor by military instructors but by hired 
soldiers already possessed of skills in the martial arts. 

Similarly, well-informed officials assumed that arms of the day, includ- 
ing bows and arrows, metal-linked whips, spears, cudgels, and swords, 
circulated widely among the subject population. Writing in the midst of 
a large-scale rebellion in 1510, the senior minister Yang Yiqing (1454-1530) 
recommended that each household in regions affected by the rebellion 
keep these weapons at hand. Strong young men and hired laborers fulfilling 
their labor obligations toward the state were to drill with these weapons. 
Likewise in the late sixteenth century, the famed official Lii Kun (1536-1618) 
advocated regular drill, this time under the instruction of professional 
instructors, in the use of "spears, swords, bows and arrows, short cudgels, 
rope whips and other such weapons" during agricultural slack periods. 104 

Implicit in these various proposals was the idea that the state or its 
local representatives could shed excess military personnel once a crisis 
had passed. Although some advocated registering new recruits into the 
hereditary military system, others explicitly rejected such a policy. Their 
most common argument was that permanent registration would undermine 

102 Okuyama, "Shotoku Chinko no ran ni tsuite", p. 108. 

103 Zheng Liizhun, Zheng Duan jian gong nian pu, 3.22b (Wanli edn held at Shanghai Library; 
reprinted inSiku quanshu cun mucong shu, shi 83, p. 558). 

104 Robinson, Bandits, Eunuchs, and the Son of Heaven, p. 95. 



recruiting efforts. Men were attracted by the promise of cash and repelled 
by permanent obligation, they insisted. 105 

Ad hoc recruiting held appeal for several reasons. For local officials, it 
provided a relatively high degree of autonomy. They could mobilize local 
men without incurring long-term fiscal responsibilities, responsibilities 
that would have required substantial modification of tax regimes, which 
in turn would have meant negotiation not only with higher-ups but also 
with local populations. Similarly for the central government, local ad hoc 
recruiting offered several advantages. It was one way to mitigate the chal- 
lenges that great distances and enormous regional variation posed in the 
age before telegraphs and steam-powered travel. Local officials (or at least 
their staffs) had a surer sense of how and where to recruit quickly. Increasing 
the number of hereditary military households would have expanded an 
already overstretched bureaucratic structure and, in principle, put garrison 
authorities on the hook for expenses related to medical care, assistance to 
widows and orphans of fallen soldiers, and stipends to the lame. 106 For better 
or for worse, the flexible military labor market saved the central government 
from the need to push through large-scale fundamental reforms. 

Critics of recruiting focused on concerns of finance, security, and govern- 
ance. Officials frequently expressed frustration that the state's vast financial 
commitment to the hereditary military household system was essentially 
money down the drain. Hiring mercenaries required additional funds on 
top of standing obligations. These costs could add up quickly. Less than one 
year after advocating hiring martial artists as troops and trainers as part 
of an effort to organize a force of 10,000 men, Zheng Xiao expressed some 
surprise that "within a week's time of the pirates entering our jurisdiction, 
we have already used more than 9,000 taels of silver for recruiting soldiers, 
feeding them, paying out on bonuses, and providing rewards". 107 

The ability of the central government, county magistrates, military 
commanders, and even private subjects with sufficient social status and 

105 In 1431, a military officer from the border region of Shaanxi suggested that men who had 
served in earlier military expeditions in the steppe be kept as a kind of reserve force that would 
report monthly for drill. The court rejected his proposal. Implicit in its reasoning was that, once 
men had completed their tour, the soldiers would return to their original units and civilians 
would return to their farms or herds (Ming Xuanzong shilu, 76.8b). 

106 Sometimes wages continued to be issued to soldiers even after their death on distant 
battlefields, usually because it took some time before garrison authorities received notification 
of death. Occasionally they tried (usually unsuccessfully) to make bereaved family members 
repay such wages (Ming Yingzong shilu, 36.5a-b). 

107 Zheng Liizhun, Zheng Duan jiangong nian pu, 3.35a (Si ku quan shu cun mu cong shu, shi 83, 
P- 565)- 



economic means to recruit hundreds or even thousands of men quickly (in 
the space of days or weeks) strongly suggests the existence of a large pool 
of young men whose labor could be temporarily removed from agricultural 
production, animal husbandry, artisanal occupations, and other economic 
activities. This situation is perhaps most profitably viewed from the per- 
spective of family units rather than individuals. Many families pursued 
sophisticated economic strategies of diversification designed to hedge 
against risks. Thus, although agricultural production might comprise the 
core economic activity of the family, individuals within the family would 
commonly engage in other activities, either full- or part-time. Adult females 
might contribute to family production through weaving, peddling jewelry, 
selling food as small vendors, etc. Adult males might work for part of the 
year on other people's farms, engage in commerce, fish, hunt, etc. Children 
could serve as herders for cows and sheep or help with simple tasks on the 
farm. Thus, many households pursued diverse economic activities in a way 
that allowed for variable but relatively predictable factors, such as season, 
natural resources, and age, and for other less predictable factors, such as 
epidemic, drought, warfare, or dramatic changes in the composition of the 

Thus short-time service in the military was one element of a larger 
strategy of economic diversification pursued at the level of individual 
households or groups of households linked through kinship and or marriage. 
Young men might serve for a single "tour" of several months or might serve 
periodically over a more extended period of time depending on demand 
within the military labor market. 

The dynamic for men who served as mercenaries for longer periods 
of time differed in several important ways. Although such men, too, are 
best understood in the context of larger family economic strategies, their 
absence was generally more enduring. Detailed documentary material 
related to their contributions to larger family units is limited, but evidence 
from men serving in hereditary military households would suggest that time 
and distance often weakened economic ties to larger family units. To the 
degree that "housemen" became long-term retainers, it seems likely (but 
far from certain) that regular, substantial contributions to their original 
household may have diminished. An initial study of one region famed in the 
sixteenth century as a source of military labor, Yiwu County, indicates that 
military service dramatically influenced local demographics. "Most young 
men in Yiwu", wrote one sixteenth-century observer, "have given up their 
original trade, responded to recruiting drives, and joined the army". Local 



officials complained that the resultant dearth of young men impinged on 
their ability to secure sufficient labor for government needs. 108 

As noted above, the conditions of service of "household men" varied 
significantly, from fairly straightforward short-term arrangements whereby 
they received cash for military labor, to long-term arrangements that 
involved accompanying their employer to new assignments or even into 
retirement. Presumably long-term arrangements involved more than a 
simple economic transaction: feelings of personal loyalty, an identification 
with other men serving under the patron, and perhaps the adoption of fic- 
tive kinship or oaths of brotherhood. Such behaviors no doubt also shaped 
the identity of those soldiers serving in regular garrison forces. 

In addition to (a) economic changes and (b) supply and demand in the 
labor market, ideological or political considerations also shaped military 
labor relations during the Ming. More specifically, the Ming state considered 
the hereditary military household system and imperial garrisons essential 
to the maintenance of the empire. The great physical size, geographic 
variation, ethnic complexity, and economic diversity of China generated 
considerable centrifugal force. Given such centrifugal pressure, the Ming 
state went to considerable lengths to ensure the viability of the dynasty by 
strengthening the centre. Thorough control of the military and the many 
functions built into the hereditary military household system were essential 
to such efforts. 

The Ming founder used various methods to prevent his generals from 
gaining sufficient power to challenge the court. Generals were assigned 
command of garrison units for specific campaigns. Once the fighting was 
concluded, the generals were to be recalled to the capital or to their positions 
on the border. 109 The founder divided the highest level of military command 
into five military commissions to prevent an undue concentration of power 
in the hands of single man or institution. He also killed many of his leading 
generals during sanguinary purges that left tens of thousands dead. 

The hereditary garrison system, too, was a critical instrument of central 
control. Ultimate responsibility for household registration of military 
families was in the hands of the central government. The court dispatched 
officials to local garrisons to track down or replace deserting (or deceased) 
soldiers. Enormous swathes of territory were turned over to the garrisons 

108 Nimick, "Ch'i Chi-kuang and I-wu County", p. 24. 

109 The prominent official He Qiaoxin considered this as one of the founder's six greatest 
accomplishments as a ruler ("Di wang gong de", in He, He Wen su gong wen ji, 2.24a, 1694 edn; 
reprinted in Taibei: Weiwen tushu chubanshe, 1976, 1, p. 109). 



for farming. The central government retained control over the lands, the 
men who farmed them, their harvests, and granaries. The central govern- 
ment exiled criminals to serve as soldiers in garrisons, especially along the 
borders. During the early decades of the dynasty, the garrison system was 
the mechanism through which the central government forcibly relocated 
hundreds of thousands of men, women, and children from one part of the 
empire to others (as part of economic reconstruction). Further, it was the 
tool through which the court tried to keep them there on a permanent basis. 
When the state first approved measures to hire soldiers from within and 
beyond hereditary military households, it initially tried to limit the pool 
to men who could demonstrate evidence of proper household registration. 110 

Thus, although officials in the central government were fully aware of the 
monetization of parts of the economy, the flexibility of the military labor 
market, and the viability of hiring soldiers to defend the dynasty, there is 
little evidence that abolition of the hereditary military household system 
or the imperial garrisons was ever given serious consideration. In the case 
of the Ming dynasty, maintenance of the hereditary military household 
system was integral to imperial power and legitimacy. This involved a 
measure of irony. The Ming court had adopted the hereditary military 
household system from the Mongol Yuan dynasty, a regime that the early 
Ming emperors spent considerable time decrying as abusive, corrupt, and 
fundamentally incompatible with the enduring values and customs of 
Chinese civilization. 

Thus, several factors shaped the particular configuration of military 
labor relations under the Ming. Insofar as dynastic legitimacy became 
entwined with strong control over military resources and the Ming wished 
to be considered a successor to the Yuan, the hereditary military household 
system and its vast array of garrisons owed much to ideological factors. 111 
One might argue that the Ming state's use of Mongol, Jurchen, Yao, and 
other non-Chinese warriors could be explained in similar terms. The initial 
emergence of hired soldiers in the fifteenth century and more especially 
their proliferation during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries must be 
understood in the wider context of socioeconomic changes transforming 
China. The growing, if still uneven, use of silver as a medium of exchange, 

no Li Du (Mingdai huangquan zhengzhiyanjiu, pp. 152-226) stresses the central government's 
high level of control. Li notes the initial efforts to recruit only from among properly registered 
men in "Mingdai mubingzhi jianlun", p. 66. 

111 For the Ming court as a successor to the Yuan, see Robinson, "The Ming Imperial Family 
and the Yuan Legacy". 



the monetization of labor and material obligations to the state, and the 
decline of the hereditary occupation household system all contributed to 
conditions favoring hired soldiers. Finally, the large and flexible military 
labor market must be mentioned. It arose as a result of the socioeconomic 
conditions enumerated above, a steadily growing population (including 
the population of young, often single men), diversified economic strategies 
pursued by individual families and lineages, and competition for military 
labor by the imperial state, local authorities, private elites, and other groups 
ranging from mutual-aid societies among farmers, men of force, bandits, 
pirates, and rebels. This competition for military labor almost certainly 
contributed to its commodification. 

From the mamluks to the mansabdars 

A social history of military service in South Asia, c. 1500 to 
c. 1650 1 

Kaushik Roy 

By the first decade of the sixteenth century, the Delhi Sultanate (1206-1526), 
the dominant power in north India, was breaking up. Several autonomous 
states emerged to challenge the political supremacy of the Delhi Sultanate 
in the Ganga-Jamuna doab (the fertile tract of land between the rivers 
Ganga and Jamuna in north India). Deccan (the region between the rivers 
Godavari and Krishna) and south India had become independent of the 
Delhi Sultanate's control earlier during the mid-fourteenth century. The 
invasion of India by the Turkish warlord Zahir-ud-din Muhammad Babur 
in 1526 resulted in the replacement of the Lodi dynasty ruling the Delhi 
Sultanate with the Mogul Empire. The Moguls (Mughals; the nineteenth- 
century British officials and historians called them Moghuls) referred to 
themselves as Chagatai Turks or Timurids even though their family links 
with the Chagatai branch of the Chingizids were weak. The Moguls claimed 
that from their father's side they descended from Amir Timur and from their 
mother's side from the Chagatai Mongol branch. The newly born Mogul 
Empire was overthrown in 1540 by the Afghan warlord from east India 
named Sher Shah Suri. Babur's son Humayun staged a comeback in 1555. 

The "real" founder of the Mogul Empire was indeed Akbar (Padshah, i.e. 
emperor, from 1556 to 1605). Akbar put an end to the political chaos in north 
India by subduing the Afghans and the Rajputs. Further, he reorganized the 
administration. By the time of Akbar's death in 1605, the Mogul Empire had 
established a stable administrative machinery in north and central India 
and was in the process of moving slowly into Deccan. Until the fourteenth 
century, the dominant mode of military recruitment in India was the 
mamluk system. The mamluks were slave soldiers of the Muslim world. 
However, by the end of the sixteenth century, due to Akbari reorganization, 
a sort of quasi-mercenary-cum-quasi-professional military employment 

1 lam indebted to Suhrita and Prof. Erik-Jan Ziircher for their comments on an earlier version 
of this paper. 



known as the mansabdari system became dominant. The beginning of the 
seventeenth century witnessed the gradual expansion of Mogul power into 
Deccan under Akbar's son and grandson, named Jahangir (r. 1605-1627) and 
Shahjahan (r. 1628-1658) respectively. They continued to operate within the 
administrative fabric established by their illustrious predecessor. By the 
mid-seventeenth century, two contradictory processes were unfolding in 
the subcontinent. While the Mogul Empire under the dynamic leadership 
of Emperor Aurangzeb (1658-1707) was poised for expansion, simultaneously 
the administrative institutions established by Akbar were slowly becoming 
dysfunctional. This was partly because the Mogul economy was in the grip 
of what is known as the "agrarian crisis" 2 and partly due to the new forms 
of warfare introduced by the Marathas and the Persians. 

Research design 

The focus in this chapter is on the combatants of the Mogul army. I will show 
how the mamluk system became dominant and explain the reasons which 
led to its demise in South Asia. The various factors that resulted in the transi- 
tion to the mansabdari system and the existence of other mini-systems 
will be laid out. Since the Mogul army was not frozen in time but evolved 
over two centuries, the transition to different forms of military labour is 
portrayed chronologically. This chapter combines original research with a 
synthesis of the existing materials and has a comparative focus. I will com- 
pare the mamluk and mansabdari systems alongside other forms of military 
profession which were in vogue in the subcontinent between 1500 and 1650. 

2 The agrarian crisis was an amalgam of structural and managerial factors. Long-term 
agricultural decline, price rises, etc. resulted in a decrease in income from jagirs (agricultural 
land assigned to the Mogul officials) from the late seventeenth century onwards. The deficit 
budget of the Mogul central government - due to continuous warfare in Deccan against the 
Marathas as well as to the rising cost of warfare - forced Aurangzeb to requisition jagirs from 
the Mogul nobles (officials), which were then transferred into the khalisa (land under direct 
crown management). In addition, newly conquered land was not assigned as jagirs among 
the nobility but put under khalisa. Aurangzeb hoped, through this measure, that the central 
government would be able to exercise greater financial control over the agrarian economy. A 
lack of jagirs for assignment to the Mogul nobles caused be-jagiri or a paibaqi crisis among the 
Mogul nobility. This scenario resulted in increasing factional fighting among the nobility trying 
to acquire the available jagirs in the Mogul Empire. After the death of Aurangzeb in 1707, the 
powerful nobles, in a bid to get hold of the jagirs, became independent of the Mogul centre and 
carved out semi-autonomous principalities for themselves and their followers. In the long run 
this resulted in the dismemberment of the Mogul Empire. See Habib, The Agrarian System of 
Mughal India; and Chandra, Parties and Politics at the Mughal Court. 



This is necessary because both the mamluk and the mansabdari systems 
emerged in interaction with various local/regional forms of military labour 
service in medieval South Asia. Again the timeline is not rigid because, to 
explain the rise and fall of the various forms of military recruitment at 
different times, we have to consider the years both before 1500 and after 
1650. In order to assess the uniqueness or lack thereof as regards the social 
history of South Asian military labourers, some comparisons will be made 
with the military systems that were operational in other parts of the world. 
Let us now explore the existing modern works on the subject. 

Historiography of military labour history of medieval South Asia 

Military history is neglected in the South Asian academic field due to the 
dominance of Marxism and, more recently, post-modernism. We have a few 
books on the military history of medieval India. The earliest modern work 
on the Mogul army is by the British historian of colonial India, William 
Irvine. He argues that Indian "racial inferiority" resulted in continuous 
treachery, infighting, and backbiting, and that this racial/cultural trait 
prevented the Moguls from constructing a bureaucratic professional stand- 
ing army capable of waging decisive battles and sieges. 3 The latest work on 
the Mogul army by a Dutch historian, Jos Gommans, asserts that the Mogul 
army was not geared for decisive confrontations aimed at destroying the 
enemy. Rather, the Mogul grand strategy was to absorb potential enemies 
within the loose structure of the Mogul Empire. The Mogul army functioned 
as an instrument to frighten, coerce, and deter enemies. 4 

We have a crop of biographies of medieval warlords, rulers, and nobles, 
which deal with their administrative and military activities. The decline of 
the Delhi Sultanate started under Sultan Firoz Shah Tughluq. R.C. Jauhri's 
biography of Firoz is still useful. 5 The best biography of Babur for political 
and military affairs remains that by the British historian Stanley Lane-Poole, 
who wrote in the last year of the nineteenth century. 6 The most recent biog- 
raphy of Babur by Stephen F. Dale concentrates mostly on political culture. 7 
The standard biography of Akbar remains the one written by Vincent Smith, 

3 Irvine, The Army of the Indian Moghuls. 

4 Gommans, Mughal Warfare. 

5 Jauhri, Firoz Tughluq. 

6 Lane-Poole, The Emperor Babar. 

7 Dale, The Garden of the Eight Paradises. 



a British civil servant in colonial India. 8 The best biographer of Aurangzeb, 
the last great Mogul, is Jadunath Sarkar. 9 On Sher Shah Suri, the founder of 
the short-lived Afghan Suri Sultanate, there are two good biographies. 10 As 
regards the biographies of the warlords, one example is Radhey Shyam's 
biography of the Ahmadnagar Sultanate's slave-turned-warlord, Malik 
Ambar, who later fought against the Moguls." We have a good biography 
of Mir Jumla, the famous noble of Aurangzeb. 12 Most of these biographies 
follow the "history-from-the-top-down" approach and give detailed narrative 
accounts of the "great men". However, some data regarding the social aspects 
of military employments can be gathered from these biographies. 

The principal debate in the field is about weak states and flower/ritual 
warfare 13 versus strong states, standing armies, and decisive battles. Most 
modern non-Indian scholars (Dirk Kolff, Gommans, Andre Wink, Doug- 
las Streusand, Burton Stein, Lome Adamson, Stephen Peter Rosen, etc.) 
argue that the Mogul state was a shadowy structure. The imperial fabric 
comprised innumerable semi-autonomous principalities held together by 
the personality of the emperor and the pomp and splendour of the Mogul 
durbar (court). The emperor did not enjoy a monopoly of violence in the 
public sphere. The Moguls lacked a drilled and disciplined standing army for 
crushing opponents on the battlefields. Treachery, diplomacy, bribery, and a 
show of force resulted in the absorption and assimilation of enemies. 14 What 
Irvine has categorized as Indian racial inferiority had been transformed 
as the unique culture of the "Orientals" in the paradigm of these modern 

In contrast, John F. Richards 15 and many of the Indian Muslim historians 
who are influenced by Marxism and belong to a group which can be labelled 
the Aligarh School, assert that the Mogul Empire was a centralized agrarian 

8 Smith, Akbar. 

9 Sarkar wrote a five-volume biography of Aurangzeb, and an abridged version in one volume 
was later published (A Short History of Aurangzib). 

10 Aquil, Sufism, Culture, and Politics; Matta, Sher Shah Suri. 
n Shyam, Life and Times of Malik Ambar. 

12 Sarkar, The Life of Mir fumla. 

13 Flower/ritual warfare means indecisive skirmishing, pillaging, and plundering, etc. The 
objective of such warfare is not destruction of the enemy but to cause harm so that the defeated 
enemy, with its militia, could be co-opted into the victor's camp. 

14 Adamson, "The Mughal Armies"; Gommans, Mughal Warfare; Streusand, The Formation 
of the Mughal Empire;Wink, Al-Hind: The Making of the Indo-lslamic World, II, The Slave Kings 
and the Islamic Conquest; Rosen, Societies and Military Power; Kolff, Naukar, Rajput & Sepoy, "A 
Millennium of Stateless Indian History?" 

15 Richards, The Mughal Empire, p. xv. 



bureaucratic polity. The Aligarh School turns the limelight on the agrarian 
economy; focusing on the revenue documents, they argue that the Moguls' 
ability to claim about 50 per cent of the gross produce from the land proves 
that they had a strong presence at the regional/local level. The sucking of 
economic surplus from the countryside was aided by the military supremacy 
of the Moguls, exemplified by the use of cavalry and gunpowder weapons. 16 
However, M. Athar Ali notes that, unlike the Tudor state, the Mogul state 
lacked the capability and the intention to legislate. 17 Probably the nature 
of the Mogul state and Mogul warfare lies somewhere in between the two 
extreme viewpoints discussed above. Now, let us review the primary sources 
which are our raw materials for piecing together the social history of the 
various forms of military employment in Mogul South Asia. 

Review of the primary sources 

Most of the sources generated by the Mogul chroniclers are in Persian. 
Very few people in the world can read Persian calligraphy of the medieval 
manuscripts which are scattered in the various museums and libraries of the 
world. Luckily most of these works have been translated into English. Various 
regional courts in the Mogul Empire generated chronicles and poems in ver- 
nacular languages such as Hindi, Rajasthani, Marathi (modi script), Punjabi 
(Gurmukhi script), and Bengali (charjapada). These scripts vary from the 
present-day scripts, and not all the vernacular sources have been translated. 
For reconstructing the cultural ethos of the Rajputs, who fought the Islamic 
armies and at times also joined them, Prithvirajvijayamahakavya is of some 
help. This poem, composed by Jayanak, comprises 1,067 sbkas (stanzas). 18 
Somadeva Bhatta's collection of poems, known as Kathasaritsagara, 19 com- 
posed around 500 CE, offers a glimpse of the warrior ethos of the Hindu 
mercenaries. In this regard, the various Sanskrit nitisastras (legal literature 
such as Arthasastra, Nitiprakasika, Sukraniti) are of some use. 

One of the principal sources for our purposes is the memoir of the first 
Mogul emperor, Babur. Babur wrote his autobiography in Turkish with the 
title Tuzuk-i-Baburi, which was translated into Persian as Babur-Nama. A.S. 

16 Habib, Akbar and His India; Ali, Mughal India;Hasan, Religion, State, and Society in Medieval 

17 Ali, "Political Structures of the Islamic Orient in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries", 
P- 95- 

18 Subsequent translations are by the author. 

19 All translations are by the author. 



Beveridge translated it into English in two volumes. While the first volume 
deals with Babur's adventures in Central Asia, the second volume narrates 
Babur's activities in Hindustan (north India). Babur's great-grandson Jahan- 
gir (r. 1605-1628) also wrote an autobiography. 20 An intimate biographical 
account of Babur's son Humayun is available in a narrative written by the 
latter's domestic attendant, Jouher. 21 The Maathir-ul-Umara, a collective 
biography of 730 Mogul nobles by Nawab Samsam-ud-Daulah Shah Nawaz 
Khan and written between 1768 and 1780, is an important source. This work 
has been translated by H. Beveridge into English into two volumes. 22 Shah 
Nawaz Khan's objective is to give "an account, in alphabetical order, of the 
lives of the great amirs and exalted nobles - some of whom had, at the time 
of their glory, by dint of fortune and good conduct, been the authors of great 
deeds [...] while others had, by the wind of their arrogance and presumption, 
heaped up final ruin for themselves". 23 In Akbar's reign, the highest rank 
to which an amir (noble) could aspire was that of 5,000 sawars, meaning 
that he was supposed to maintain 5,000 cavalry. However, a few people 
attained the rank of 7,000 sawars. These higher ranks were held mostly 
by the royal princes. Under Shah Jahan and Aurangzeb, mansabdars 24 of 
3,000 possessed their own drums and flags. A noble holding the rank of 500 
was of considerable importance. Hence, Shah Nawaz Khan writes, he has 
included the biographies of nobles who held the mansab of the rank of 500 
and upwards. 25 For details of Akbar's reign, the best source is Akbar-Nama 
by Akbar's courtier Abul Fazl. 26 Abul Fazl's Ain-i-Akbari is a statistical and 
ethnographic study of the Mogul Empire. For Shah Jahan's reign, we have 
Inayat Khan's Shah Jahan Nama. 27 For abridged translations of the various 
medieval Persian works dealing with India, the eight volumes of H.M. Elliot 
and John Dawson's History of India remain useful. 28 

The problem with the Persian sources is that they were written by the 
elites for the elites, i.e. mostly the relatives of mansabdars for the mansab- 

20 The Jahangirnama. 

21 The Tezkereh al Vakiat. 

22 The Maathir-ul-Umara. See also I, p. 32. 

23 Ibid., I, p. 7. 

24 A Mogul official who held a mansab (rank) in lieu of jagirs was known as a mansabdar. In 
accordance with his rank, he had to maintain a military contingent, which he did out of the 
revenues of the jagirs assigned to him. 

25 The Maathir-ul- Umara, I, p. 8. 

26 The Akbar-Nama was first completed in 1596. 

27 Shah Jahan Nama of Inayat Khan, ed. by Begley and Desai. 

28 The History of India as told by its own Historians. 



dars. 29 The court chroniclers and the nobles who wrote while enjoying the 
patronage of the rulers concentrated mostly on the doings of the durbar 
and not on those lower placed. Hence, we can recreate the picture about the 
officer corps (especially the senior ranks) of the Mogul army but we know 
very little about the rank and file. And the common soldiers have left us with 
no written materials. Let us now look at the forms of military employment 
which were in vogue in the subcontinent when the Moguls arrived. 

The rise and fall of the mamluk system, c. 1200-1399 

The Delhi Sultanate depended on irregular troops (mercenaries and retain- 
ers of the tributary chieftains) and regular soldiers (ghulams, i.e., slaves plus 
soldiers raised and maintained by the iqtadars)? 0 The irregular troops were 
assembled during campaigns and other emergencies (civil wars, invasion by 
foreign powers, etc.) and the regular troops were maintained throughout 
the year as a sort of standing army. 

The early rulers of the Delhi Sultanate, such as Muhammad Ghori, 
Qutub-ud-din Aibak and Iltutmish (or Altamash, sultan from 1211 to 1236), 
were influenced by the ghulam/mamluk system which was prevalent in 
the Middle East. For inspiration and a model to follow, these three sultans 
looked at the political and military system prevalent in the Caliphate and 
in the other Muslim polities of the Middle East. The mamluk institution 
first came into existence during the first half of the ninth century, under 
the Abbasid Caliphate. 31 Peter Jackson writes that by the eleventh century 
Turkish slave regiments were prevalent in the polities of Transoxiana, 
Turkestan, Persia (Iran), and the Near East. 32 The shock troops and the 
core of the Delhi Sultanate's army comprised mounted Turkish ghulams. 
Many of the sultans, such as Aibak, Iltutmish, Balban (r. 1266-1287), and 
so forth, started their careers as ghulams. Firoz Shah Tughluq (r. 1351-1388) 
maintained 180,000 slaves, of whom 40,000 served in the army. Some slaves 

29 Abul Fazl himself was a mansabdar holding the rank of 4,000: The History of India, Elliot 
and Dawson, VI, Akbar-Nama of Abul Fazl, p. 2. 

30 An iqtadarwas the holder of an iqta (a piece of land). The revenue of the iqta went to support 
the cavalry force of the iqtadar. 

31 Jackson, "The Mamluk Institution in Early Muslim India", p. 340. 

32 Jackson, "Turkish Slaves on Islam's Indian Frontier", pp. 64-65. 



specialized in archery, others in swordsmanship, and so on. The slaves were 
occasionally paid in cash, but usually through jagirs. 33 

Next in importance were the contingents of the iqtadars. The nobles were 
granted land, i.e., iqtas (the equivalent of jagirs), for maintaining cavalry 
troopers. The iqtadars (holder of iqtas) paid the soldiers under their com- 
mand out of the revenues collected from their iqtas. 34 Initially, the iqtas were 
granted not to the Hindu chieftains but to the Turkish nobles. The iqtadars 
and their soldiers (who were their kinsmen) 35 joined military service for 
material gain. However, it would be wrong to categorize them as mercenar- 
ies, because their military employment depended on the political fortunes 
of the sultan. If a particular sultan was overthrown, his favourite iqtadars 
were replaced by nobles who supported the cause of the victor. The iqtadari 
system was not professional because the iqtas were given for life; when the 
regular soldiers grew old, they remained in the ranks, and after their death 
their male relations inherited their posts. 36 The iqta system was a technique 
of rewarding the free-born Turkish nobles who constituted the support 
base of the Delhi sultans. In the absence of a bureaucracy, the nobles were 
installed as iqtadars directly into the countryside, where their function was 
to collect any agricultural surplus. With the passage of time, especially under 
the Khaljis and the Lodis, iqtas were granted to the non-Turkish Muslims 
for broadening the support base of the Delhi Sultanate. To an extent, the 
iqtas were somewhat equivalent to timars and the iqtadari cavaliers were 
somewhat similar to timariots (sipahis) of the Ottoman Army. 37 

However, shifts in the international balance of power, as well as the 
enormous demographic resources of the subcontinent, encouraged the Delhi 
Sultanate to change the ethnic composition of the ghulams and to depend on 
the free-floating armed mercenaries of Hindustan. Initially, the Delhi Sul- 
tanate relied on Turkish slaves to fill the ghulam units. The Mongol invasions 
of Central Asia, Afghanistan, and Iran resulted in the Delhi Sultanate being 
completely cut off from the manpower supplies of the extra-Indian Islamic 
world. The cessation of the flow of Turkish and Afghan manpower forced the 
Delhi sultans to enslave Hindu boys and convert them to Islam; they were 
then inducted into the ranks of ghulams. This process was somewhat similar 
to the Ottoman practice of capturing young Christian boys in the Balkans 

33 Jauhri, Firoz Tughluq, pp. 126-128; Jackson, "The Mamluk Institution in Early Muslim India", 
PP- 341, 357- 

34 Jauhri, Firoz Tughluq, pp. 86, 118. 

35 Hasan, "Aspects of State and Religion in Medieval India", p. 65. 

36 Jauhri, Firoz Tughluq, p. 120. 

37 Aksan, "Ottoman War and Warfare", p. 150. 



who were, after their forcible conversion into Islam, inducted as janissaries. 
The Delhi Sultanate was faced simultaneously with Mongol challenges in 
Sind and Punjab; 38 within South Asia, the Rajput chieftains started to nibble 
away at the internal frontiers of the Sultanate. 39 One way to maintain and 
expand the size of the army was to hire indigenous mercenaries as well as 
to utilize the forces of the defeated chiefs. The free-floating mercenaries 
had their own horses, armour, and equipment. They were paid in cash and 
they also had a right to the loot taken from the defeated enemies. Unlike the 
ghulams and the iqtadari soldiers, the mercenaries were employed either 
for a single season only or during emergencies. 

In 1353, when Firoz Tughluq marched from Delhi towards Bengal with 
70,000 soldiers, many Hindu chieftains who had stopped paying tribute 
joined him with their war bands. 40 These chieftains with their warriors 
(who belonged to the same religion and mobilized through the territorial 
clan network) were forced to join the sultanate's expeditionary armies and 
were not remunerated in any way. It was a sort of begari (forced unpaid 
labour) and could be categorized as a case of an ethnic tributary form of 
military employment. 

During the 1365 Thatta (Sind) campaign, Firoz, as well as depending on 
the ghulams and iqtadari troops, also recruited the free-floating mercenar- 
ies. They were paid 40 per cent of their salaries in advance. After Firoz was 
repulsed in Sind, he prepared another army for a second campaign against 
Sind during 1366-1367. In addition to mobilizing the soldiers of the iqtadars, 
Firoz hired mercenaries. The mercenaries were paid three-fifths of their 
salaries in advance so that they could equip themselves. The personnel of 
the standing army during this campaign also received payment in cash. 
This was possible as there were various types of gold and silver coins in 
circulation in Firoz's time. In fact, the whole revenue of Gujarat, which 
amounted to 20 million tankas (coins) was used in paying the army. To 
prevent desertion of the troops during the second Sind campaign, sentinels 
were appointed. Deserters were disgraced publicly if caught. 41 Timur's 
invasion of India during 1398-1399 with 84,000 cavalry dealt a deathblow 
to the Delhi Sultanate. 42 Further, it encouraged many other Central Asian 
adventurers such as Babur to invade the weakening Delhi Sultanate. 

38 Jackson, "The Mongols and the Delhi Sultanate in the Reign of Muhammad Tughluq". 

39 Habibullah, The Foundation of Muslim Rule in India. 

40 Jauhri, Firoz Tughluq, pp. 46-47. 

41 Ibid., pp. 81, 84-85, 118, 131. 

42 The Akbar-Nama, I, p. 244. 



The armies of the early Moguls and their opponents, 1494-1556 

In 1494, Zahir-ud-din Muhammad Babur inherited the Kingdom of Fer- 
ghana from his father Omar Shaikh, son of Abu Shaikh, the great-grandson 
of Timur. 43 Babur relied on different types of military labour. During the 
Battle of Sar-i-Pul, fought in 1501 with the Uzbek chief Shaibani Khan, 
Babur deployed household troops. 44 Virginia Aksan writes that the Otto- 
man sultan's court was organized as a household and that the state was 
regarded as patrimony. The household comprised the sultan's army and 
his military headquarters. 45 The household troops 46 constituted the core 
group of Babur's army. They provided the "braves", the crack soldiers who 
carried out daredevil manoeuvres on the battlefield. They joined Babur's 
side due to family and clan connections. And, being attached to Babur by 
personal relations, unlike the tribal mercenaries, they did not change sides 
in accordance with the fluctuating political circumstances. By profession, 
they were warriors and fought bravely for Babur, like a band of brothers. 
And they got the best rewards after a successful campaign. In 1497, Babur 
occupied Samarkhand. In 1498-1499, Babur commanded some 2,000 Mongol 
soldiers from one tribe. He said that these soldiers had come to him from 
his mother's side. Babur's mother was the daughter of Yunus Khan, who 
was a distant descendant of the Mongol leader Chingiz Khan. 47 The Mongol 
horse archers carried outflank attacks (known as taulqama charges), which 
required special skills. They played an important role in routing the Lodi 
forces at the First Battle of Panipat (21 April 1526). 48 

Babur mentions that the Mongol settlers in Central Asia were organized 
in various tribes. Many Mongol tribes who had no blood relation to Babur 
joined him. Each Mongol tribe at that time comprised 3,000-4,000 families. 
Most of these tribes were mobile but some had a particular territorial desig- 
nation. In 1504-1505, Rusta-Hazara, a Mongol tribe from Badakshan, joined 
Babur. At different times, several tribal leaders with their retainers joined 
Babur in search of loot and plunder. Babur had not defeated these tribal 
chieftains and forced them to join his army with their retainers; instead, the 

43 Lane-Poole, The Emperor Babar, p. 17. 

44 Babur-Nama, I, pp. 138-139. 

45 Aksan, "Ottoman War and Warfare", p. 150. 

46 Abul Fazl uses the term diwanian to designate the household troops who were considered 
the most loyal and courageous: The Akbar-Nama, I, pp. 263-264. 

47 Babur-Nama, I, pp. 19, 21, 105, 164. Beveridge uses the term "Mughals" to designate the 
descendants of Chingiz Khan who were settled in Central Asia. 

48 Ibid., II, pp. 472-473. 



soldiers belonging to a particular tribe fought under their tribal leader, who 
acknowledged the supremacy of Babur. The tribal chiefs changed sides in 
accordance with the fortunes of war. They joined a successful charismatic 
warlord who provided them with loot and plunder. For example, in 1504, 
after the defeat of Wali (a brother of Khusrau Shah) by Shaibani Khan, the 
former joined Babur with his Mongol kinsmen. 49 It was a case of an ethnic 
(reciprocal) mercenary sort of military employment. However, at certain 
junctures, the Mongol tribes proved unreliable. Their loyalty to Babur was 
conditional and pragmatic. In general, the Mongol tribes were more willing 
to serve a Chingizid prince rather than a Timurid mirza (royal prince) such 
as Babur. 50 While wandering in Central Asia, Babur mentioned that some 
rulers maintained ghulams, 51 though he himself never utilized them. The 
army of about 10,000-12,000 men with which Babur attacked the Delhi 
Sultanate comprised household troops, various Mongol and Turkish tribes, 
and a few Ottoman mercenaries. Abul Fazl uses the terms "Turks" and 
"Tajiks" to describe the ethnic composition of Babur's force. 52 

Babur's opponent at the First Battle of Panipat, Sultan Ibrahim Lodi (r. 
1517-1526) depended on the indigenous mercenaries. Ibrahim Lodi, being an 
Afghan, preferred Afghan soldiers. Abul Fazl deliberately inflates the size 
of Ibrahim's army to highlight the courage of the Mogul soldiers and the 
leadership ability of Babur. Fazl claimed that Ibrahim commanded 100,000 
cavalry and 1,000 elephants. When Timur invaded India, the Delhi Sultanate 
commanded a bigger region than the area controlled by Ibrahim. However, 
the Sultanate could only scrape up 10,000 cavalry and 120 elephants to 
oppose Timur. 53 

After being victorious at First Panipat, many Afghan chieftains in India 
(who were either semi-autonomous or in Lodi service) joined Babur as 
tributaries with their retainers (some of the bands numbering up to 3,000- 
4,000 men each). 54 In many cases, they were forced to join Babur after being 
defeated in battle. Again, many important chieftains who submitted to 
Babur were rewarded with land grants. Fath Khan Sherwani was one of 
Ibrahim Lodi's nobles. When Fath Khan submitted to Babur, the former was 
given 1 crore 6 lakhs (1 lakh is 100,000; 1 crore is 100 lakhs or 10 million) as a 

49 Ibid., I, pp. 188-189, 192, 196, 253. 

50 Dale, The Garden of the Eight Paradises, pp. 187-246. 

51 Babur-Nama, I, p. 102. 

52 The Akbar-Nama,\, p. 240. 

53 Hasan, "Aspects of State and Religion in Medieval India", p. 68; The Akbar-Nama, I, pp. 241, 

54 Lane-Poole, The Emperor Babar, p. 172. 



reward, and his son Mahmud Khan was taken in the Mogul army. 55 Shaikh 
Guhran entered Babur's service with 3,000 bowmen from the Ganga-Jamuna 
doab. Firuz Khan, an Afghan noble of the Lodis who submitted to Babur, 
received a jagir worth one crore tankas in Jaunpur, and Mahmud Khan 
received a jagir worth 90 lakhs in Ghazipur. 5 * 5 

However, not all the Afghan chiefs submitted to Babur. Many of them 
allied with Rajput chieftain Rana Sangram Singh (also known as Rana 
Sangha), the ruler of Chitor (Udaipur) and confronted the Moguls at the 
Battle of Khanwa (16 March 1527). The combined Rajput-Afghan force, writes 
Abul Fazl, numbered 201,000 cavalry. 57 Superior firepower and horse archery 
again gave victory to the Moguls. 

After the death of Babur (26 December 1530), his eldest son Humayun 
ascended the Mogul throne. Gujarat and east India were the two trouble spots 
for Humayun. In 1533, Bahadur Shah, the sultan of Gujarat, depended on 6,000 
Abyssinian volunteers. Some of Bahadur Shah's infantry were mercenaries 
from the Bhil and Koli tribes. 58 Bahadur Shah provided 20 crore of Gujarati 
coins to one of his nobles, Tatar Khan, who with this money hired 40,000 
Afghan mercenary cavalry. 59 Some Muslims of Gujarat also joined his artillery 
branch as mercenaries. Bahadur Shah also relied on some tributary Rajput 
chieftains who joined his standard with their cavalry retainers. 60 Humayun 
moved into Gujarat with 30,000 cavalry. By 1535, Gujaratwas conquered. 61 In 
1531, Humayun moved into east India and defeated several Afghan chieftains. 
They were ordered to join the Mogul service with their retainers. 62 However, 
such tributary soldiers proved disloyal, deserting and joining Farid (who 
became Sher Khan and then Sher Shah) who challenged Humayun. 

Sher Shah was from the Afghan tribe of Sur. His grandfather was a horse 
merchant in Agra. 63 Sher recruited Afghans from Bihar, and many Rajput 
chieftains with their clansmen also joined his banner. While the Rajputs in 
his army were mercenaries, the Afghans were mobilized through tribal/clan 
networks. Sher called the Afghan qaum (community) to mobilize against 

55 The Akbar-Nama, I, pp. 256-257. 

56 Ibid., I, p. 253. 

57 Ibid., I, pp. 260-261. Fazl no doubt gives an exaggerated figure of the enemy force, as main- 
taining such a large force was logistically impossible. 

58 The Tezkereh al Vakiat, p. 7; The Akbar-Nama, I, p. 309. 

59 The History of India, Elliot and Dawson, VI, Akbar-Nama, pp. 11-12. 

60 Ibid., p. 14. 

61 The Akbar-Nama, I, pp. 306-307. 

62 The Tezkereh al Vakiat, p. 3. 

63 The Akbar-Nama, I, pp. 326-327. 



the alien Moguls. 64 Before fighting Humayun, Sher conscripted the Afghans 
of Bihar to join his army. 65 This was a rare case of conscription in Indian 
history. For the Afghans in Sher's army, it was a case of ethnic conscription. 
Some of Sher's officers were ghulams but they were in a minority. By 1540, 
Sher commanded 150,000 cavalry and 25,000 foot soldiers. 66 

According to one estimate, in 1540, Humayun mobilized 90,000 cavalry 
against Sher Shah. 67 When Humayun fought Sher in the two battles of 
Chausa (27 June 1539) and Kanauj (17 May 1540), the household troops of 
Babur did not prove loyal to Humayun. Many household troops joined 
Humayun's half-brothers, Kamran in particular. Kamran provided only 
3,000 of his 20,000 cavalry to Humayun. 68 Babur's nobles were also divided 
as regards their loyalty to Humayun. 69 After being defeated by Sher, Hum- 
ayun reached Persia through Sind, which was under the Safavid Dynasty. 
During 1544, with the help of 14,000 Persian cavalry, Humayun was able to 
capture Kandahar, which was then handed over to a Persian garrison. In 
1545, Humayun recaptured Kandahar from the Persians in a surprise attack 
with the aid of mercenary Afghan soldiers. In 1551, Humayun captured 
Kabul from his brother Mirza Kamran. 70 In 1553, Humayun moved towards 
Peshawar. At that time, several Uzbek chiefs joined his standard. There is 
no evidence of any Uzbek tribes joining Babur. Some of the Uzbeks served 
Humayun's son Akbar. 71 Sher Shah died on 23 May 1545 and was succeeded 
by his son Islam Shah. On his death in 1553, the Suri Empire broke up into 
four parts. In 1554, Humayun invaded India and defeated the Afghan ruler 
of Punjab Sikander Suri at Sirhind. 72 The prospect of plunder attracted 
many mercenaries from Central Asia to Humayun's standard. They were 
employed as temporary volunteers. Jouher writes: 

About this time nearly 500 Moghul soldiers came from beyond the 
river Oxus to seek for employment; but as very few of them were 
armed, the general consulted me what he should do with them; I said, 

64 Aquil, Sufism, Culture, andPolitics, pp. 65-66, 112. 

65 Matta, Sher Shah Suri, p. 89. 

66 Aquil, Sufism, Culture, andPolitics, p. 108; The Akbar-Nama, I, p. 615. 

67 The Tezkereh al Vakiat, p. 20. 

68 The Akbar-Nama, I, pp. 346, 348. 

69 Hasan, "New Light on the Relations of the Early Mughal Rulers with Their Nobility", 
pp. 114-115. 

70 The Tezkereh al Vakiat, pp. 77, 80-82. 

71 Ibid., p. 108; The Akbar Nama, II, pp. 48, 54. 

72 The Tezkereh al Vakiat, pp. 113-115; Richards, The Mughal Empire, p. 12. 



"give each of them a bow and a quiver of arrows, and advance them a 
small sum of money to support them for a month, by which time the 
business with the Afghans will be settled". He took my advice, and 
having advanced the money to the Moghuls, they joined the army as 
volunteers. 73 

When Humayun recaptured the Mogul throne, Persian Shias began joining 
the Mogul service in large numbers. 74 

After Humayun's death on 21 January 1556, Akbar ascended the Mogul 
throne at Kalanaur in Punjab. 75 A Hindu general of the Suri dynasty named 
Hemu declared his independence and captured Delhi. Abul Fazl notes that 
Hemu's tribe, the Dhusar, was engaged in making and selling saltpetre in 
Gurgaon district. 76 Hemu's army numbered 50,000 cavalry, comprising Af- 
ghans, Rajputs, and some Brahman mercenaries. Some of the Rajputs were 
from the Jhansi district of north India. Most of the senior officers of Hemu's 
army were his relatives from the Brahman caste. Hemu won over the Afghan 
chiefs by distributing land grants and treasure. 77 At Panipat, Hemu deployed 
30,000 cavalry. The Mogul army, 10,000 strong, under the nominal leadership 
of Akbar but actually under the noble Bairam Khan (a Turk), advanced from 
Kalanaur in Punjab to confront Hemu, again at the historical field of Panipat. 78 

The emergence of the mansabdari system, 1556-1650 

After achieving victory in the Second Battle of Panipat (5 November 1556), 
Akbar faced challenges from some of the Muslim nobles of Humayun as well 
as from the Afghans of east India. Unlike Babur, under Akbar the base of the 
Mogul Empire was no longer Afghanistan, but north India proper. So, unlike 
Babur and Humayun, Akbar could not tap the Turkish tribes settled around 
the Oxus River. Moreover, by this time, the Uzbek Khanate, the sworn enemy 
of the Mogul Empire, had been resurrected in Central Asia. Akbar realized 
that he needed to broaden the basis of his rule by integrating the Hindu 
chieftains within his regime, and one way to ensure loyalty among the various 

73 The Tezkereh al Vakiat, p. 118. Here "Moghul" refers to Mongols. 

74 Khan, "Akbar's Personality Traits and World Outlook", p. 82. 

75 The Tezkereh al Vakiat, pp. 120-121. 

76 The Akbar- Nama, I, p. 617. 

77 Ibid., II, pp. 47-48, 59; Bhargava, Hemu and His Times; see esp. pp. 13, 90, 100. Richards claims 
that Hemu was of the Vaisya (trader) caste: Mughal Empire, p. 13. 

78 The Akbar-Nama, II, pp. 59-61. 



groups of Muslim nobles and Hindu chieftains was to establish a personalized 
and semi-bureaucratic relationship with them. Such a relationship, reasoned 
Akbar, would generate a more cohesive and loyal force than would depend- 
ence on the tribal retainers. By trial and error, Akbar evolved the mansabdari 
system. The mansabdars of Akbar comprised Persians, Turanis, Muslims born 
in India, and the Rajput chieftains. 79 Many Turani and Afghan chieftains 
realized that the institution of the mansabdari system was an attempt to curb 
their independence, so they revolted. However, Akbar was able to quash the 
rebellions with the aid of his loyal mansabdars. One example will suffice. 
In 1572, the mirzas in collusion with the Afghan chieftains revolted against 
Akbar. The forces under the mirzas comprised Abyssinians, and men from 
Badakshan and Transoxiana. The rebellion was crushed in 1573. 80 

Mansab technically meant rank, and the holder of the mansab was 
known as mansabdar (an imperial official) and was granted a jagir. The 
lowest-ranking mansabdar commanded 10 cavalry and the highest-ranking 
mansabdar 10,000. In Akbar's time, most of the mansabdars above the 
rank of 5,000 were his sons. 81 Under Akbar's successor, a mansabdar held 
two ranks: zat and sawar ranks. The zat rank denoted the personal rank of 
the Mogul noble in the mansabdari system while the sawar rank denoted 
the number of cavalry which the mansabdar had to maintain for imperial 
service. 82 In a contingent of a mansabdar of 10,000, other mansabdars as high 
as hazaris (commanders of 1,000) served. In the contingent of a mansabdar 
of 8,000, mansabdars who were commanders of 800 sawar served; for a 
mansabdar of 7,000, mansabdars up to the rank of 700 served. 83 Abdul 
Kadir Badauni (a chronicler who lived in Akbar's time) had written that the 
contingent of a mansabdar comprised khas-khailan (his personal depend- 
ants which included friends, relatives, and clan members, etc.) as well as 
bargirs who were mercenaries. 84 To borrow John Lynn's army style model, 
the Mogul army, mainly centred around the mansabdari system, was not a 
state commission army 85 but an agglomeration of quasi-bureaucratic units. 

79 Zaidi, "Akbar and the Rajput Principalities", p. 15. 

80 The Akbar Nama, III, p. 76. 

81 The Ain-i-Akbari, I, Book Second, p. 248. 

82 M. Athar Ali claims that sawar rank represented the number of horses and half the number 
of troopers, a mansabdar had to maintain. This means that a mansabdar of 100 sawar rank 
maintained 100 horses and 50 troopers. See Ali, "Organization of the Nobility", p. 250. 

83 The Ain-i-Akbari, I, Book Second, pp. 241-242. 

84 The History of India, Elliot and Dawson, V, Tarikh-i-Badauni, of Abdul Kadir Badauni, p. 515. 
A bargir was a trooper without a horse. His employer provided him with a horse when he joined 
the contingent. 

85 Lynn, "The Evolution of Army Style in the Modern West". 



J.S. Grewal says that the mansabdari system represented a suzerain/ 
vassal relationship. 86 The mansabdari system was also partly a case of the 
tributary form of military employment. After being defeated, the chieftains 
belonging to different principalities were encouraged and at times coerced 
to serve in the Mogul army and in return were rewarded with jagirs. When 
Akbar established himself at Agra, a large number of principalities were 
under the control of autonomous and semi-autonomous hereditary chief- 
tains. The latter were known as rajas, ranas, rawats, or rais. They were also 
known as Rajputs, and the Mogul chroniclers called them zamindars. Some 
of the Rajput chieftains maintained large numbers of cavalry. Those who 
joined the Mogul service were granted mansabs. 87 During Shah Jahan's 
reign, large numbers of mansabs were granted to the Muslim nobles of the 
Deccani sultanates in order to win them over to Mogul service. 88 

Throughout the territories under their control, the Moguls collected taxes 
from the peasants through the zamindars who were allowed a certain com- 
mission for discharging this duty. 89 The military retainers of the zamindars, 
claims Douglas E. Streusand, comprised a nucleus of retainers from their 
own caste supplemented by the peasants. 90 Many zamindars who were loyal 
to the Mogul Empire and were in the good books of the Mogul provincial 
governors (subadars) were inducted in the mansabdari service. By joining 
the mansabdari service they received additional land grants which enabled 
them to maintain larger number of cavalry with which they could defeat 
local opposition to their rule. One example will suffice. In the thirtieth 
regnal year of Shah Jahan (r. 1628-1658), Salabat Khan, the governor of the 
suba (province) of Allahabad, introduced Anup Singh, the zamindar of 
Bandhu in the durbar. Shah Jahan awarded Anup Singh a mansab of 3,000 
and granted him a jagir for maintaining the troopers in accordance with 
the number stipulated in his mansab. 31 

Many Persian and Turani adventurers who came to India in search 
of employment were also appointed as mansabdars. In 1595, there were 
279 mansabdars, of whom 47 were Rajputs (Hindus) and 75 were Persians 
(Shias). 9Z Many Indian Muslims were also given mansab ranks. For instance, 

86 Grewal, "The Sikh Movement during the Reign of Akbar", pp. 252-253. 

87 Khan, "Akbar's Initial Encounters with the Chiefs", pp. 1, 6. 

88 Moosvi, "The Mughal Empire and Deccan", p. 221. 

89 Hasan, "Zamindars under the Mughals", p. 137. 

90 Streusand, The Formation of the Mughal Empire, p. 43. 

91 Shah Jahan Nama of Inayat Khan, ed. by Begley and Desai, pp. 529-530. 

92 Ali, "Sulh-i Kul and the Religious Ideas of Akbar", p. 165. Ali does not consider here the 
mansabdars whose ranks were below 200. 



one shaikhzada from Lucknow was granted a mansab of 700 by Akbar. In 
the eleventh year of Shah Jahan's reign, the son of Nazar Muhammad, the 
ruler of Balkh came to India and joined Mogul service. He was granted 
ranks of 1,500 zat and 800 sawar and given a jagir in Bihar. 93 

The mansabdari system was a quasi-professional and partly bureaucratic 
system as there were thirty-three to sixty-six grades. On the basis of their 
performance, the mansabdars were either promoted to higher ranks or 
demoted to lower ones. Besides possessing a hierarchy, the mansabdars 
were also transferred to different regions in their service life and were oc- 
casionally suspended from service. Athar Ali asserts that the mansabdars in 
general were transferred every two to three years. 94 Generally, mansabdars 
were given lifelong employment by the Mogul durbar. Unlike the mercenar- 
ies, the mansabdars' freedom in leaving the service was limited. Khwaja 
Abdullah, a mansabdar in 1611 under Jahangir's reign, was ordered to move 
into Deccan. However, he left Deccan without imperial permission and, in 
retaliation, his jagir was sequestered by the imperial government. For some 
time, he was imprisoned in the fort of Asir. When Shah Jahan ascended the 
throne, Abdullah was reinstated in service and given ranks of 5,000 zat and 
5,000 sawar. Again Raja Pratap of Ujjain, a Hindu chieftain of Bihar, who 
held ranks of 1,500 zat and 1,000 sawar, withdrew from service in the tenth 
year of Shah Jahan's reign. An army was sent against him and, after being 
defeated in battle, he was executed. In the twentieth year of Shah Jahan's 
reign, Abdul Haji Khwaja held the zat rank of 900 and sawar rank of 600. In 
the next year, he was promoted to the zat rank of 1,500 and sawar rank of 800. 
In the twenty-third year of Shah Jahan's reign, his sawar rank was increased 
to 1,000. During the fourth year of Shahjahan's reign, Khwaja was deployed 
in Deccan and then in Malwa. In the twenty-sixth year of Shahjahan's 
reign, Khwaja was sent with Prince Dara Shikoh (Shahjahan's eldest son) to 
Kandahar to fight the Safavids. At that time, his sawar rank remained 1,000, 
but his zat rank was raised from 1,500 to 2,000. In the twenty-seventh year 
of Shahjahan's reign, Khwaja was given the honour of possessing a flag. 95 
Again, Akbar introduced the descriptive roll system and the issue of pay 
was dependent on the inspection of these rolls by the imperial inspectors. 
To prevent borrowing of horses between the mansabdars, Akbar made the 
system of branding horses compulsory. 96 The punishment in the Mogul 

93 The Maathir-ul-Umara, I, pp. 48-49. 

94 Ali, "Political Structures of the Islamic Orient", pp. 99-100. 

95 The Maathir-ul-Umara, I, pp. 36, 98-101, 103. 

96 The Ain-i-Akbari, I, Book Second, p. 242. 



army for looting civilians was physical mutilation, cutting off the nose of 
the offender. 97 

The mansabdari system was quasi-professional because there was no 
training academy for the mansabdars. Unlike the European monarchs and 
princes, the Mogul emperors did not set up any institution for teaching 
military arts to the nobles. For instance, in 1606, an academy was founded 
at Sedan by the due de Bouillon, brother-in-law of Prince Maurice of Orange. 
Between 1608 and 1610, the Venetian Republic established four academies 
(at Padua, Treviso, Udine, and Verona) to train skilled cavalrymen. Similar 
institutions were opened by Landgrave Maurice of Hesse-Cassel (1618), by 
Denmark's Christian IV at Soro in 1623, and by the military entrepreneur 
Count Albrecht von Wallenstein at Gitschin in 1624. Don Gaspar de Guzman 
Olivares (1587-1645, count-duke and chief minister of Philip IV of Spain) 
pushed for the opening of the Colegio Imperial (a military academy for 
the nobles) at Madrid in 1625. 98 The Delhi Sultanate held periodic furusiya 
exercises for training mounted archers. In addition, the cavaliers were 
trained in playing chaugan (polo) and swordsmanship. 99 We are not sure 
whether these practices continued in Mogul India or not. Probably, most of 
the mansabdars and their contingents got on-the-job training on the bat- 
tlefield. However, hunting as military training continued under the Moguls. 
The mansabdari system was not hereditary. Nevertheless, mansabdars who 
displayed bravery and loyalty in imperial service had their male heirs' and 
relatives' cases assessed favourably by the durbar. When a son was allowed 
to succeed his father, his mansab was generally lower than that of his father. 
The son had to prove himself to achieve a rank similar to or higher than his 
father's. To give an example, Mir Kamal-ud-Din came to India and served 
Akbar. Kamal-ud-Din's son Mirak Husain served Jahangir and Husain's 
son Muin-ud-Din served Shah Jahan. Under Aurangzeb, Muin-ud-Din 
became the diwan (officer in charge of finance) of Lahore, Multan, Kabul, 
and Kashmir. When Abdul Hadi Khwaja, the mansabdar of Shah Jahan 
and holding zat rank of 2,000 and sawar rank of 1,000 died in 1656, his son, 
Khawajajah, was given the zat rank of 1,000 and sawar rank of 400. For the 
mansabdars, there was no clear separation of civilian and military posts. 
Khwaja Abdul Majid, who came from Central Asia, joined Humayun and 
became a diwan. In Akbar's reign, he became the governor of Delhi and held 

97 Sarkar, Fall of the Mughal Empire, II, 1754-71, p. 18. 

98 Storrs and Scott, "The Military Revolution and the European Nobility", p. 26. 

99 Ali, Military Technology and Warfare in the Sultanate of Delhi, pp. 33, 35. 



a mansab of 3,000,'°° and in his time most of the higher-ranking mansabdars 
were governors of subas. 101 

Technical skills and foreign mercenaries 

For manufacturing and manning gunpowder weapons, Mogul depend- 
ence on foreign professionals continued from Babur to Akbar. During the 
First Battle of Panipat, Ustad Ali Quli Khan was in charge of positioning 
the matchlock men behind the chained baggage carts and the field guns 
deployed in the centre of Babur's army at Panipat. In addition, Ustad Quli 
Khan was also in charge of manufacturing stone-throwing mortars of vari- 
ous sizes required for deployment on the battlefield as well as for taking the 
forts. He was present in the Battle of Chaldiran, 102 fought in 1514 between 
the Ottomans and the Persians, where the Ottomans deployed chained 
baggage carts behind which they placed their field guns and matchlock 
men. 103 Another Rumi (Ottoman) mercenary of Babur was Mustafa, who 
commanded the culverins in the Battle of Khanwa and was in charge of 
arranging the chained carts in the Rumi way during the battle. In this 
battle, Ustad Quli deployed the matchlock men behind mobile wooden 
tripods. 104 The technical skill of the Ottoman mercenaries in manufacturing 
and manning gunpowder weapons made Ustad Quli Khan and Mustafa 
valuable for Babur. They could be categorized as professional mercenaries. 

Babur's son Humayun continued to depend on them; some of these 
mercenaries were actually deserters who joined the Mogul service probably 
due to the greater prospect of loot and plunder. Some of the technical/ 
professional mercenaries' children also followed the profession of their 
fathers. Ustad Ali Quli's son, M.K. Rumi, was in charge of the Mogul gun 
carriages and mortars during the Battle of Kanauj. 105 Rumi Khan, the 
commandant of the Gujarat Sultanate's artillery department, deserted 
Sultan Bahadur Shah and joined Humayun in 1533. Rumi Khan was a 
military engineer and was considered an expert in siege warfare. In 1537, 
he advised Humayun in conducting the siege of Chunar Fort held by Sher 
Shah. Mining, sapping, and the construction of batteries were done under 

100 The Maathir-ul-Umara, I, pp. 12, 36-37. 

101 The Ain-i-Akbari, I, Book Second, p. 252. 

102 The Babur-Nama, II, pp. 466, 468-469, 473, 536, 599-600, 667. 

103 Lane-Poole, The Emperor Babar, p. 162. 

104 Babur-Nama, II, pp. 550, 557-558; The Akbar-Nama, I, p. 263. 

105 The Akbar-Nama, I, p. 351. 



the advice of Rumi Khan. 106 Under Humayun, Rumi Khan became MirAtish 
(director-general of artillery). 107 In 1555, Ustad Aziz Sistani from Aleppo 
was taken into the Mogul army for his expertise in pyrotechnics. 108 In 1591, 
while campaigning in Sind, the siege operation against Unarpur Fort was 
directed by Ustad Yar Muhammad Khan. He was considered an expert in 
the Ottoman technique of raising mounds of sand on which the Mogul 
batteries were placed during the siege. Yar Muhammad Khan had come 
from Persia. 109 Certain Ottoman military techniques had seeped into Iran 
due to Ottoman-Safavid military confrontations. So, we could speculate 
that he was adept at Ottoman techniques of siege warfare. 

Besides the Moguls, the other Islamic polities in South Asia also depended 
on foreign mercenaries for harnessing gunpowder technology. The largest 
bronze cannon at Bijapur, Malik Maidan, was cast by a Turkish engineer 
named Muhammad bin Hasan Rumi in 1548. 110 In addition to the Turks, the 
subcontinent's rulers also hired West Europeans in the artillery department. 
Bahadur Shah of Gujarat had many Portuguese gunners in his army. 111 From 
the second half of the seventeenth century, the Mogul artillery was manned 
by Portuguese, British, Dutch, German, and French mercenaries. These 
foreigners were deserters from European ships and entered Mogul dominion 
through Goa for higher pay. They were paid Rs 200 per month. 112 

Regional levies 

The Moguls, like the Delhi Sultanate, also depended on the indigenous 
regional levies. For foot musketeers, who were especially important during 
siege operations, the Mogul Empire hired Hindu mercenaries through the 
zamindars. Jahangir noted in his autobiography that in 1609: "I ordered the 
nephew of Bihari Chand, the qanungo [magistrate] of the Agra sarkar, to 
muster a thousand foot soldiers from the zamindars of Agra, fix a monthly 
stipend for them, and take them to Pervez in the Deccan."" 3 Most of the foot 

106 The Tezkereh al Vakiat, pp. 4-5, 9-10. 

107 The Akbar-Nama, I, p. 331. 

108 Ibid., I, p. 640. 

109 Bilgrami, "The Mughal Annexation of Sind", p. 48. 

110 Balasubramaniam, "A Catalogue of Massive Forge-Welded Iron Cannon in India: Part 1", 
P- 77- 

111 Richards, The Mughal Empire, p. 10. 

112 The History of India, Elliot and Dawson, VI, Appendix, p. 469. 

113 The Jahangirnama, p. 104. 



soldiers came from Allahabad, Buxar, and Bhojpur in the Shahabad District, 
south of Ganga and west of the Son River. These people belonged to the Uj- 
jayina branch of Rajputs. Another locality which provided the foot soldiers 
was Baiswara in Awadh which was inhabited by Baiswara Rajputs. The 
Unao and Rae Bareilly districts, which covered about 2,000 square miles, 
were inhabited by Baiswara Rajputs. 114 Incidentally, these groups joined the 
infantry of Sher Shah and Hemu. 115 And after the Moguls, the Rajputs of Bihar 
served in the infantry of Maratha Confederacy and the East India Company 
during the eighteenth and the first half of the nineteenth centuries. The 
Ain-i-Akbari notes some regions where matchlock men were available in 
large numbers, Bhograi and Kasijora mahals (districts) in Jaleswar Sarkar 
(division, which means a collection of districts) of Orissa. 116 The Moguls 
probably also tapped these sources. The musketeers of the Mogul army 
also came from Bundelkhand and Karnatak. The Karnatakis served in the 
army of the Bijapur Sultanate as well. 117 In addition to musketeers, the Mogul 
army hired men equipped with bans (rockets). The Afghans of Bengal were 
considered experts in this branch of warfare. 118 

Miscellaneous mini-systems 

Towards the end of the sixteenth century, in the regions outside the Mogul 
Empire, various other forms of military employment were operational. In 
the Ahmadnagar Sultanate in western Deccan, Abyssinian military slaves 
and Abyssinian mercenaries played an important role. 119 The Abyssinians 
(also known as Habshis in India) were African Muslims from Ethiopia who 
either came to India as free-born adventurers or were imported as slaves. 
Most of the slaves originated in the Kambata region of southern Ethiopia. 
The Deccani sultanates exported cotton textiles and ivory, and imported 
Abyssinian slaves plus Arabian war horses. 120 According to one estimate, 

114 Bhattasali, "Bengal Chiefs' Struggle for Independence", pp. 19, 32. 

115 TheAkbar-Nama,U,p.6o. 

116 The Ain-i-Akbari, II, pp. 155-156. 

117 Sarkar, Nadir Shah in India, p. 54. 

118 TheAkbar-Nama,l,p.3s8. 

119 Shyam, The Life and Times of Malik Ambar, p. 12; The Maathir-ul-Umara, by Beveridge, I, 

120 Eaton, A Social History of Deccan, pp. 105-109. 



during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, about 10,000-12,000 slaves were 
exported annually from Ethiopia for the Deccani sultanates. 121 

One of the most famous Habshi slaves was Malik Ambar. Malik Ambar 
was born at Harare in Ethiopia in 1548-1549. His parents sold him in the 
slave market of Baghdad where he was bought by the slave merchant Mir 
Qasim. Then, he was sold to Changiz Khan, who had 1,000 slaves and was an 
important noble of the Ahmadnagar Sultanate. When Changiz Khan died, 
Malik Ambar enrolled himself as an ordinary soldier in the Ahmadnagar 
army. We do not know whether Malik Ambar was ever manumitted or not. 
His rise to power started when he was made a commander of 150 horse- 
men of Ahmadnagar. 122 This time, Ambar's status was that of a military 
entrepreneur. Within a few years, Malik Ambar became the "sultan maker" 
and principal noble of the Ahmadnagar Sultanate until his death in 1626. 
During the eighteenth century, the Abyssinian (also referred to as Arab) 
mercenaries continued in the service of the Maratha Confederacy. 

In addition to the Abyssinian mercenaries and the slaves, the Ahmadnagar 
Sultanate also depended upon the semi-autonomous Koli chiefs who provided 
cavalry and infantry and occasionally changed sides in accordance with 
the shifting political circumstances. The Kolis joined the Maratha warlord 
Shivaji's infantry during the second half of the seventeenth century. In 1625, to 
fight the Portuguese, who fielded mainly infantry equipped with handguns, 
Malik Ambar requisitioned foot soldiers (known as hasham) from the karkuns 
(district officials) of Chaul in western Maharashtra. They were experts in 
the use of firearms, like the Rajputs of Awadh and Bihar who joined the 
Mogul infantry. 123 The employment of musketeers spread in response to the 
firepower-heavy infantry of the Portuguese. As the Mogul Empire spread into 
Deccan during the second half of the seventeenth century, the mansabdari 
system more or less eclipsed the other mini-systems of military employment. 

Demography, economy, and military labourers 

At the end of the sixteenth century, the population of England was 4 mil- 
lion, Spain's was 7 million, and France's was 14 million. 124 Between 1450 

121 Ibid., pp. 109-111. 

122 Shyam, The Life and Times of Malik Ambar, pp. 34-37. 

123 Ibid., pp. 22, 147. 

124 Nolan, "The Militarization of the Elizabethan State", p. 271. 



and 1700, the population of Europe rose from 50 million to 120 million. 125 
During the eighteenth century, while Iran's population was 9 million, the 
population of the Ottoman Empire was 30 million. 126 In 1601, the population 
of the subcontinent (3.2 million km 2 ) was 145 million. 127 In the seventeenth 
century, the rate of increase of population was roughly 0.21 per cent per 
annum. 128 The vast demographic resources of South Asia resulted in the 
absence of conscription in the subcontinent. 

The very existence of an extensive potential military labour pool did 
not encourage the Mogul emperors to maintain a select standing army 
comprising drilled and disciplined infantry and cavalry troopers. Since 
supply exceeded demand, there was no point in maintaining a big standing 
army year after year. Rather, during emergencies, infantry and cavalry were 
raised at short notice and sent to the trouble spots. And after the crisis was 
over, the soldiers hired from the zamindars for a particular campaign were 
disbanded. Abul Fazl tells us that in Akbar's empire (which excluded Deccan 
and south India), the zamindars were able to furnish 4 million and 4 lakh 
armed men. 129 The Ain-i-Akbari further informs us that the forces under the 
zamindars of Bengal Suba comprised 23,330 cavalry and 801,150 infantry. 130 

Politics and the culture of military remuneration, and not the economy 
of South Asia, payment of the military entrepreneurs and their retainers 
through land grants rather than cash. Instead of economic forces, the nature 
of politics determined the form of remuneration to the military labourers. 
The centralized Turkish state built by Sultan Alauddin Khalji (r. 1296-1316), 
who had a standing cavalry force paid in tonkas, had disintegrated by the 
time of the establishment of the Lodi dynasty under Bahlul (r. 1451-1489). 
John F. Richards writes that there was no shortage of precious metal in 
north India, and trade and commerce were flourishing in the first half of 
the sixteenth century there. However, due to the decentralized tribal nature 
of Lodi polity, Bahlul was forced to assign land grants permanently to the 
various Afghan tribal chiefs (Lodi, Lohani, Farmuli, and Sharwani clans, all 
of which belonged to the Ghilzai tribe) who maintained troopers from the 
revenues extracted from the grants. Bahlul had no control over the revenues 
of these grants. These tribal chiefs were semi-autonomous. Bahlul had to 
depend on clan ties and blood relationships with the Afghan chiefs while 

125 Ali, "The Passing of the Empire", p. 339. 

126 Axworthy, The Sword of Persia, p. 29. 

127 Richards, The Mughal Empire, p. 1. 

128 Moosvi, "The Indian Economic Experience 1600-1900", pp. 4-5. 

129 The Ain-i-Akbari, I, Book Second, p. 241. 

130 Ibid., II, p. 141. 



mobilizing their forces. In fact, Bahlul lacked a standing army under his 
direct control. Bahlul's successor, Sikander Lodi (r. 1489-1517), amassed loot 
by plundering the Rajput principalities. 131 Ibrahim Lodi, son of Sikander, 
raised the mercenaries just before the battle from the bazaars (markets) of 
Delhi by distributing cash from the wealth stored by his predecessors. 132 In 
Ibrahim's reign, the monthly wage of a footman was 5 Sikandari tankas and 
that of a sawar varied between 20 and 30 Sikandari tankas. 133 

Even the Rajput principalities maintained troops by grantingyag/rs to 
their chiefs. Abul Fazl writes that among the Rajputs the custom was that a 
jagirdar holding a jagirworth 100,000 maintained 100 horses, and a jagirdar 
holding a jagirworth one crore was able to maintain 10,000 horses. 134 

Sher Shah acquired 900,000 silver tankas after defeating Sultan Ghiyas- 
uddin Mahmud of Bengal in 1535. 135 Between 1535 and 1537, Sher's army 
increased from 6,000 to 70,000 horsemen and the latter's salary bill came 
to about 12 crore tankas per month. Raziuddin Aquil asserts that Sher paid 
his soldiers a fixed sum every month in cash and that they were not allowed 
to engage in pillage and plundering while campaigning. 136 Sher Shah issued 
coins from his mints at Shergarh in Rohtas and Hajipur near Patna. 137 In 1537, 
Sher, controlling Bihar and Bengal, had an annual income of 16 crore tankas. 138 

In October 1504, Babur occupied Kabul and Ghazni. Then, he distributed 
tuyuls (fiefs) to some of his begs (nobles with armed retainers) who had 
served him from the earliest times. 139 They were probably the chiefs of his 
loyal household troops. Babur could afford to do this because by that time 
he was a territorial prince with a kingdom comprising Afghanistan. This was 
the first instance of regular payment in kind that Babur made to his military 
officers. After conquering Punjab, Babur bestowed various regions on his dif- 
ferent commanders. For example, Dipalpur was given to Baqi Shaghawal. 140 
In addition, Babur also depended on pillage and plunder to sustain and 
reward his troops after victories. To give an example, in 1519, Babur levied 

131 Richards, "The Economic History of the Lodi Period". 

132 Babur-Nama, II, p. 470. 

133 Roy, Niamatullah's History of the Afghans, pp. 187-188; 20 Sikandari tankas are equal to 1 
silver tanka. 

134 The Akbar-Nama, I, p. 260. Abul Fazl does not specify whether the annual revenue was 
calculated in tankas or dams. 

135 Hussain, "Glimpses of Silver Coins of the Patna Mint", p. 185. 

136 Aquil, Sufism, Culture, and Politics, pp. 76, 105-106, 108. 

137 Hussain, "Glimpses of Silver Coins of the Patna Mint", pp. 184-185. 

138 Aquil, Sufism, Culture, and Politics, pp. 107-108. 

139 Babur-Nama, I, pp. 199, 227. 

140 Ibid., II, p. 463. 



400,000 shahrukhis (20,000 pounds sterling) as protection money from Bhira 
on the left bank of Jhelum. After victory in the First Battle of Panipat, the 
Moguls captured Delhi and Agra and acquired a large amount of coined and 
non-coin treasure that had been accumulated by the Delhi Sultanate. Babur 
divided a portion of the spoils (jewels, gold and silver money) among his 
troops. The amirs got between 5 to 10 lakh tankas each and the soldiers got 
cash. 141 Babur's son Humayun also followed the policy of parcelling out his 
realm among his nobles so that the latter could maintain their contingents 
from the revenues of the tracts assigned to them. 142 After a victory, Humayun 
would distribute the loot among his nobles and their retainers. For instance 
in 1533 after capturing Champanir, the capital of Gujarat, the treasure found 
in the fort was distributed among his army personnel. 143 

The principal income of the Mogul Empire came from land tax, and 
agriculture was expanding in the Mogul Empire. For example, by c. 1600, 
the extensive forest in the western part of the Ganga-Jamuna doab was 
cleared and the region was intensely cultivated and densely populated. 144 
The peasants sold the grain to pay revenue in cash. Abul Fazl writes that the 
peasants in Bengal paid their taxes in mohurs (golden coins) and rupees. 145 
Sonargaon in Bengal produced world-famous muslin. 146 India exported 
cotton textiles, indigo, and pepper to South-East Asia, East Africa, and the 
Middle East. 147 Economically, Mogul India was in a favourable position 
vis-a-vis Persia. Silk from Bengal pushed silk manufactured in Persia out of 
the European markets, and Indian cotton was also imported into Persia. The 
balance of trade was therefore more favourable to India than to Persia. 148 
Prasannan Parthasarathi claims that Indian calicoes and muslins captured 
the European markets. Due to a loss of bullion, the Europeans raised tariff 
barriers against the entry of Indian textiles. 149 Parthasarathi and Richards 
write that the Mogul Empire was self-financing from its own resources. 
The emperors did not have to depend on loans from the private financiers. 
State finance depended on a robust monetary system, which in turn relied 

141 The Akbar-Nama, I, pp. 238, 248. 

142 Matta, Sher Shah Suri, pp. 92-93. 

143 The Tezkereh al Vakiat, p. 6. 

144 Moosvi, "Ecology, Population Distribution, and Settlement Pattern in Mughal India", 
pp. 92, 100. 

145 The Ain-i-Akbari, II, p. 134. 

146 Ibid., II, p. 136. 

147 Moosvi, "Urban Population in Pre-Colonial India", p. 126; Richards, The Mughal Empire, p. 4. 

148 Axworthy, The Sword of Persia, p. 28. 

149 Parthasarati, "Was There Capitalism in Early Modern India?" p. 353. 



upon the regular inflow of gold, silver, and copper. India produced inad- 
equate quantities of these precious metals, but its export surplus enabled 
the country to import large amounts that had been produced in the New 
World and Japan. Akbar established a tripartite currency system based 
on gold, silver, and copper coins issued from the centrally administered 
imperial mints. 150 The important mints of Mogul Empire were at Cambay, 
Lahore, Multan, Kabul, Patna, Rajmahal, and so forth. 151 In Akbar's reign, 
the mints at Ajmir, Delhi, Fatehpur Sikri, and Lahore produced silver coins. 
The two great cities of Agra and Fatehpur Sikri were bigger than London and 
Amsterdam. 152 The coins were used to pay the merchants who imported war 
horses from Central Asia and Persia. 153 Shireen Moosvi speculates that from 
1576 onwards the silver currency output of the Mogul Empire was 151.69 
metric tonnes annually. 154 Towards the end of Akbar's period, the Mogul 
Empire retained an annual surplus of income over expenditure of between 
3.9 million and 4.7 million silver rupees equivalent in cash. 155 Streusand is 
wrong in saying that incomplete monetization of the economy, rudimentary 
banking institutions, and the difficulty of transporting large amount of 
cash made the central collection of revenue and distribution of cash salaries 
impractical, and that therefore the Moguls used the jagir system. 156 

Despite the presence of a monetized economy in the subcontinent, the 
culture of remuneration was to pay the soldiers (especially the higher ranks, 
i.e., officers) by issuing land grants, and the ultimate objective of these 
officers was to establish themselves as landed aristocracy with territorial 
bases. 157 Only the mercenaries were paid in cash. The pay of the matchlock 
men varied between 2.5 to 6.25 rupees (henceforth Rs) per month. The pay 
of a mirdaha (non-commissioned officer of the matchlock men) varied 
between 6.5 and 7.5 Rs per month. 158 During the first half of the sixteenth 
century, the level of monetization was low in Deccan. However, in the 
seventeenth century, west India experienced a high level of monetization 

150 Richards, "The Seventeenth Century Crisis in South Asia", pp. 628-629. 

151 Moosvi, "The Silver Influx, Money Supply, Prices and Revenue-Extraction in Mughal India", 
pp. 42-43- 

152 Moosvi, "Urban Population in Pre-Colonial India", pp. 130-131. 

153 Haidar, "Disappearance of Coin Minting in the 1580s?" pp. 57-58, 60. 

154 Moosvi, "The Silver Influx, Money Supply, Prices and Revenue-Extraction in Mughal India", 
P- 45- 

155 Richards, "The Seventeenth Century Crisis in South Asia", p. 627. 

156 Streusand, The Formation of the Mughal Empire, pp. 67-68. 

157 Gordon, "Symbolic and Structural Constraints on the Adoption of European-Style Military 
Technologies", p. 159. 

158 The Ain-i-Akbari, I, Book Second, Note by the translator, p. 258. 



due to the export of cotton textiles from Surat. Still, the Maratha chieftains 
wanted to be paid through land grants (saranjams, non-hereditary land 
grants for military service, and imams, hereditary land grants for special 
service and merit). 159 

The mansabdars were not paid in cash. For example, Abdullah Khan, one 
of the principal officers of Humayun, was granted the rank of 5,000 by Akbar 
during the seventh year of his reign and was granted Kalpi as a jagir. 160 For 
conducting campaigns on behalf of the Moguls, the emperors gave jagirs to 
those Hindu chieftains who held mansabs. In an attempt to control these 
chieftains and also to prevent the expansion of their territorial bases, the 
imperial court granted jagirs in regions far away from their principalities. 161 
In case of disloyalty, these jagirs were sequestered by the imperial court. 
The jama-dami (estimated income from the jagir) was equivalent to the 
talab (salary) of the mansabdar. 162 Moosvi asserts that the price rise in the 
seventeenth century was about 30 per cent. Between 1595 and 1700, the jama 
(assessed revenue) of the Mogul Empire (excluding Deccan) registered an 
increase of about 44 per cent. 163 By the mid-seventeenth century, due to 
the onset of the agrarian crisis, the mansabdars holding ranks of 4,000 and 
5,000 were able to extract only three to four months' pay in a year from their 
jagirs. 16 * This was the case during the first half of the sixteenth century for 
those mansabdars whose jagirs were assigned in Deccan. 165 This was due 
to the gap between jama and hal-i-hasil (the amount which actually could 
be realized from the jagir). Continuous warfare in Deccan and the failure 
of the monsoon resulted in famine; these three causes led to the collapse 
of agriculture, which in turn triggered the agrarian crisis. 166 The crisis in 
the mansabdari system was related to the agrarian crisis, 167 an issue which 
is not relevant for my limited purpose in this chapter. 

Most of the land in the Mogul Empire was granted as jagirs to the 
mansabdars. Only a small portion, known as khalisa (crown land), was 
administered directly by the emperor's bureaucrats. The revenue from the 

159 Gordon, The Marathas: 1600-1818, pp. 21-22. 

160 The Maathir-ul-Umara, by Beveridge, I, p. 82. 

161 Zaidi, "Akbar and the Rajput Principalities", p. 16. 

162 Ali, "Towards an Interpretation of the Mughal Empire", p. 62. 

163 Moosvi, "An Estimate of Revenues of the Deccan Kingdoms", p. 293. 

164 The Maathir-ul-Umara, by Beveridge, I, p. 104. 

165 Moosvi, "The Mughal Empire and the Deccan", pp. 219-220. 

166 Moosvi, "Scarcities, Prices, and Exploitation", pp. 230-231. 

167 The literature on the agrarian crisis and its adverse effect on the loyalty of the mansabdars 
and the efficiency of their contingents is vast. S. Nurul Hasan states that the crisis began in the 
first decade of the seventeenth century: Hasan, "The Theory of Nurjahan 'Junta'", p. 128. 



khalisa was utilized for meeting the emperor's personal expenses and those 
of his own small standing army, known as the ahadis. 168 Around 1600, the 
Mogul nobility (mansabdars) absorbed about 82 per cent of the Mogul Em- 
pire's total revenue. 169 Abul Fazl tells us that the annual revenue of the Mogul 
Empire in 1594 amounted to 62 crores 97 lakhs 55,246 dams (Rs 90,743, 881). 170 
In 1648, according to one estimate, the net revenue income of the Mogul 
Empire was 880 crore dams. 171 Under Akbar, there were 1,600 mansabdars 
(1,350 mansabdars with ranks of 150 and below and 250 mansabdars with 
ranks higher than 150). In Shahjahan's time, there were 8,000 mansabdars. 172 
In contrast to the large number of retainers of the mansabdars, Akbar 
maintained only 12,000 cavalry and 12,000 matchlock men under his direct 
control. These 24,000 soldiers were known as ahadis. Under Shah Jahan, 
there were only 7,000 ahadis. 173 As a point of comparison, in 1550, Ivan IV 
of Russia maintained a standing force of 3,000 select musketeers, each 
of whom was paid 4 rubles a year. 174 In 1648, the force recruited and paid 
directly by the Mogul imperial establishment amounted to only 47,000 
soldiers. 175 

Most of the Mogul army personnel were under the mansabdars. The theo- 
retical potential strength of the forces under the Moguls in 1647 numbered 
911,400 cavalry and infantry. The revenues of the Mogul Empire amounted 
to 12,071,876,840 dams (320 dams was equivalent to £1 sterling). 176 Streusand 
interprets Abul Fazl's figure by saying that the Mogul Empire supported 
342,696 cavalry and 4,039,097 infantry. The total number of cavalry and 
infantry comprised roughly 10 per cent of the male population. 177 Accord- 
ing to another author, Shah Jahan maintained 200,000 cavalry and 40,000 
infantry (musketeers, artillerymen, rocket men, etc.). This was exclusive 
of the soldiers maintained by the faujdars (Mogul officials in charge of 
maintaining law and order in a district) and district officials concerned 
with the administration of revenue. The breakdown of the 200,000 cavalry 
was as follows: 185,000 troopers of the mansabdars, 8,000 mansabdars, and 

168 The Ain-i-Akbari, I, Book Second, pp. 252, 259-260. 

169 Trivedi, "The Share of the Mansabdars in State Revenue Resources", p. 411. 

170 The Ain-i-Akbari, II, p. 129. 

171 Moosvi, "Expenditure on Buildings on under Shah Jahan", p. 199. 

172 The Ain-i-Akbari, I, Book Second, Note by the translator, pp. 257-258. 

173 Ibid., I, Book Second, Note by the translator, p. 256; Akbar-Nama, I, p. 642. 

174 Davies, "The Foundations of Muscovite Military Power", p. 22. 

175 Moosvi, "Expenditure on Buildings on under Shah Jahan", p. 200. 

176 Fraser, The History of Nadir Shah, pp. 27, 33. 

177 Streusand, The Formation of the Mughal Empire, p. 41. 



7,000 mounted ahadis. 178 A Mogul field army at that time numbered about 
50,000 cavalry and 10,000 infantry. 179 

Culture and combat motivation 

Greed, asserts Sukraniti, motivated the mercenaries to join battle. 180 The 
Nitiprakasika highlights the importance of regular pay in motivating the 
soldiers. 181 Nevertheless, men do not fight for pecuniary rewards alone. 
Mentality is an important constituent of pre-combat and in-combat ethos. 
And at times military service defined the identity of various communities. 
Despite the rise and fall of polities due to fluctuations in politics and the 
changing nature of technologies, the culture of the various communities 
changes very slowly. So the Hindu texts generated during pre-Mogul era 
offer a window into the mentality of the Hindu warrior ethos. 

The cultural ethos of the Rajputs (the landowning aristocracy also known 
as thakurs), who resisted the Turks and became an important segment of the 
Mogul army from Akbar onwards, needs to be evaluated. The term "Rajput" 
is derived from the word rajaputra meaning sons of the king. Military 
service, especially mounted service, was very popular among the Rajputs. 182 
The Rajputs' military ethic was guided by kshatradharma, which had some 
parallel with chivalry of the medieval west European knights. 183 Loyalty and 
bravery were the two core values of kshatradharma. The ideology of combat 
centred on duty to one's master and the display of individual prowess in 
the battlefield. 184 The Rajput concept of namak halali (loyalty to the salt- 
giver) means that they should remain loyal to the person whose salt they 

178 The Ain-i-Akbari, I, Book Second, Note by the translator, p. 254. 

179 This was the size of the army sent against Safavid Kandahar in 1650: The History of India, 
Elliott and Dawson, VII, Shah Jahan Nama of Inayat Khan, p. 99. 

180 Oppert, On the Weapons, Army Organization, and Political Maxims of the Ancient Hindus, 
p. 139. Sukraniti and Nitiprakasika are political texts generated by the Hindus during the early 
medieval period. These normative texts deal with the duties of a just ruler, the concept of 
dharmayuddha (just war), the ethics of conducting warfare, the use of new weapons, and 
political guidance for just rulers. 

181 Nitiprakasika, p. 26. 

182 Sharma, "The Military System of the Mewar (Udaipur) State", p. 118; Ziegler, "Evolution of 
the Rathor State of Marvar", p. 194. 

183 Yadava, "Chivalry and Warfare". 

184 Ziegler, "Evolution of the Rathor State of Marvar", p. 202. 



have eaten, in other words, to their employer. 185 The Rajput heroic ballads 
emphasized that seva (duty and loyalty) to the lord was more important than 
duty and loyalty towards one's family. 186 The bravery of the Rajputs revolved 
around the concept of paurusha (manliness), which means sacrificing one's 
life in the battlefield. The Prithvirajvijayamahakavya tells us that for the 
Chauhans (a Rajput clan) fighting was a way of life. The Rajputs considered 
themselves as Kshatriyas, and soldiering was regarded as their caste duty. 
They believed that tactical retreat in the battlefield was inglorious, and 
they considered that sacrificing their lives on the battlefield, rather than 
becoming prisoners-of-war, was the highest possible achievement. 187 The 
medieval Hindu text Sukraniti emphasizes that it is a sin for a Kshatriya to 
die peacefully at home. Rather, the Kshatriya earns a noble death by dying 
in the battlefield while slaying enemies. Those Kshatriyas who die in the 
battlefield achieve viragati (they become heroes and ascend to heaven). Such 
a reward is acquired by the rishis (sages) only after long ascetic practices. 188 
The Arthasastra also notes that soldiering is the caste duty of the Kshatri- 
yas. 189 When the Islamic threat was absent, the various Rajput clans fought 
among themselves for glory. 190 The contingents of the Rajput mansabdars 
maintained charans (bards) whose duty was to encourage the soldiers by 
playing martial music and reciting Rajput heroic ballads. 191 

The Mogul military system also utilized caste and clan feelings to build 
up primary group solidarity and camaraderie. The mansabdars' contingents 
were not mono-ethnic units. The contingents of Rajput mansabdars did 
not comprise solely Rajput troopers but also included Muslim sowars. 192 
Generally, the Rajput mansabdars had one-sixth of their contingents from 
the non-Rajput groups. However, Rajput troopers preferred to serve under 
Rajput chiefs. Several generations served simultaneously in a contingent 
of a mansabdar. For instance, fathers, sons, uncles, nephews, cousins, 
and brothers all served simultaneously in the contingent of a particular 
mansabdar.™ The clan members were led on the battlefield by the clan 

185 Stewart Gordon erroneously translates namakhalali as lun. See Gordon, "Zones of Military 
Entrepreneurship in India", pp. 186-187. 

186 Trivedi, "Images of Women from the Fourteenth to the Sixteenth Century", p. 209. 

187 Prithvirajvijayamahakavya, DitiyaAdhyaya, Sastha Adhaya. 

188 Oppert, On the Weapons, Army Organization, and Political Maxims of the Ancient Hindus, 
pp. 125-126. 

189 The Kautily a Arthasastra, Part II, p. 7. 

190 Prithvirajvijayamahakavya, Chaturtha Adhyaya. 

191 Zaidi, "Ordinary Kachawaha Troopers serving the Mughal Empire", p. 63. 

192 Ibid., pp. 62-63. 

193 Zaidi, "Rozindar Troopers under Sawai Jai Singh of Jaipur", pp. 47-48. 



leaders. 194 The different Rajput clans who joined the Mogul service were the 
Rathors, Sisodias, Kachawahas, Haras, Bhatis, and others. 195 

Stewart Gordon asserts that the process of the rise of the Marathas in 
medieval west India was somewhat similar to the emergence of Rajputs in 
north India. Through service in the army and subsequently acquiring rights 
over the land, and then consolidating such rights and following certain 
rituals and customs, many became hereditary warrior elites. 196 Basically, the 
warrior ethos of the Rajputs and the Marathas emphasized winning glory 
and money and acquiring power. Social mobility was achieved by fighting 
on horseback. They had a disdain for those who practised agriculture. 197 
Those families in west India who followed the profession of soldiering and 
acquired land were known as Marathas, in contrast to the lowly kunbis 
(ordinary cultivators and artisans). The Marathas served as mercenaries in 
the Muslim sultanates of pre-Mogul India. Gradually, the Maratha families 
established themselves in particular regions and became semi-autonomous. 
Thus, they could not be categorized as service elites. 198 

The ethos of mercenary soldiering existed in pre-Mogul India. The Hindu 
mercenaries are known as bhrata balas (literally "hired soldiers") in Sanskrit 
literature. Several of them belonged to families whose hereditary trade 
was soldiering. 199 The Panchantantra says that the mercenaries should 
pursue the profession of soldiering without thinking about the reasons 
behind warfare. 200 In the villages, akharas (gymnasiums) existed in which 
the mercenaries engaged in wrestling to keep themselves physically fit. 201 

Many of them were worshippers of the Hindu war gods Kartik and 
Vishnu. 202 William Pinch writes that the armed ascetics, especially those 
who were worshippers of Lord Shiva (the Hindu god of destruction), known 
as Saivaites, played an important role in the military labour market of 
Hindustan. Pinch continues that the tradition of armed ascetics functioning 
as mercenaries went back to ancient times. Saiva asceticism did not preach 
world denial. Theyogis (those who engage in yoga, i.e., in ascetic practices 

194 Sharma, "The Military System of the Mewar (Udaipur) State", p. 121. 

195 Ali, "Causes of the Rathor Rebellion of 1679", p. 259. 

196 Gordon, The Marathas: 1600-1818, p. 16. 

197 Gordon, "Zones of Military Entrepreneurship in India", p. 184. 

198 Gordon, The Marathas: 1600-1818, pp. 15, 17. 

199 Arthasastra, Part II, Kangle, p. 316. 

200 Quoted in Oppert, On the Weapons, Army Organization, and Political Maxims of the Ancient 
Hindus, p. 32. 

201 Ibid., p. 85. 

202 Kathasaritsagara, I, pp. 42, 156. 



to gain spiritual power) did not aim to become saints in the conventional 
sense of the term. They were not noted for an intense love of God. Rather, 
they aspired to become a second Shiva on earth. One of the bonds that held 
the armed ascetic warrior bands together was the concept of chela, a faithful 
disciple. Most of the chelas were originally slave boys who were sold by their 
poor parents to the yogis in the asrams (Hindu religious institutions). 203 The 
armed Hindu devotees of the god Vishnu were known as bairagis. They 
were led by mahants (heads of the religious order). The armed ascetics 
consumed bhang, opium, and other intoxicants before joining battle in 
order to increase their enthusiasm for fighting. 204 

Finally, let us turn our focus to the motivation of the Muslim soldiery. If 
we believe Simon Digby, then the Turani soldiers of the Mogul army were 
devotees of the Sufi saints. 205 The idea of Sufis being peace-loving saints 
engaged in building bridges between the two antagonistic communities, 
Hindus and Muslims, is now rightly discredited. 206 Digby asserts that even 
the Afghan soldiers of Sher Shah believed that the Sufi pirs could make the 
difference between victory and defeat on the battlefield. 207 Many of the 
Mogul troopers had Naqshbandi affiliations. The Sufi saints traveled to and 
fro between Transoxiana and Deccan. While some shaikhs functioned as 
traveling pirs catering to the spiritual needs of the soldiers, other shaikhs 
established khanqas at the capitals of the subas. zo% Some of the dervishes 
were also expert bow-makers. 209 The soldiers and their officers believed 
that the pirs' spiritual power would protect them against enemy arrows 
and shots. In return for spiritual support, many soldiers and their officers 
donated money for the construction of mosques. 210 Abul Fazl notes that, 
when the Muslim troops loyal to the Mogul sovereign died while fighting 
rebellious Muslims, then the former achieved martyrdom. 211 How far this 
assertion represented the actual combat ethos of the loyal Mogul soldiery 
remains an open question. In recent times, Rosalind O'Hanlon has asserted 
that Mogul manliness was shaped by a modified version of the Persian 
concept of javanmardi, which meant displaying courage and bravery in 

203 Pinch, Warrior Ascetics and Indian Empires, pp. 5, 26-27, 46, 59, 65-66, 81, 185. 

204 Orr, "Armed Religious Ascetics in Northern India", pp. 189, 192, 197. 

205 Sufis and Soldiers in Aurangzeb's Decca, p. xxvii. 

206 Kumar, "Politics, the Muslim Community and Hindu-Muslim Relations Reconsidered". 

207 Digby, "Dreams and Reminiscences of Dattu Sarvani", pp. 53, 56. 

208 Sufis and Soldiers in Aurangzeb's Deccan, pp. 3-4. 

209 The Akbar-Nama, I, p. 611. 

210 Digby, Sufis and Soldiers in Aurangzeb's Deccan, pp. 10-11. 

211 The Akbar-Nama, I, pp. 604-605. 



imperial service. For the mounted musketeers, the skill of shooting from 
horseback constituted the concept of being a "true" mirza. zlz 

With the passage of time, we see a subtle change in the cultural motiva- 
tions of both the Muslim and Rajput soldiery. The transformation of the 
cultural ethos was related to the changes in the power politics of the real 
world. Nothwithstanding the many syncretic and inclusionist dimensions of 
medieval Islamic culture, asserts Rajat Datta, for the Islamic conquerors and 
their ideologues, Hindustan was a land of kufr or infidels. 213 During the thir- 
teenth century, the discourse among at least a powerful section of the Muslim 
intellectuals was that jihad on part of the righteous sultan was necessary. The 
jihad was directed towards despoiling the riches of the temples, killing the 
Brahmans, and theoretically giving the Hindus the option of death or Islam. 214 
And those ghazis (religious soldiers) who fell while conducting/7/zac/became 
shahids (martyrs). When Babur fought the Rajputs at Khanwa, by giving 
the call of jihad, the former tried to rouse the combat spirit of his Muslim 
soldiery. However, when the multi-ethnic Mogul army comprising Muslim 
and Hindu (Rajput and Maratha) soldiers fought the Shia Muslim sultanates 
of Deccan (Bijapur and Golkunda), the policy was not to give the cry of jihad 
but to rouse the Muslim soldiery by utilizing the power of the Sufi shaikhs. 
Similarly, when the Rajputs fought the Muslims then the former relied on the 
concept of dharmayuddha, but when the Rajputs fought in the Mogul army 
they strengthened their combat ethos by harking back to their caste pride 
as soldiers. In such circumstances, the Mogul Padshah was equated with 
Ram, the Kshatriya hero of the epic Ramayana who waged dharmayuddha.^ 


Due to the vast demographic resources of South Asia (if one wants, then one 
can use Dirk Kolff's term "military labour market"), military conscription 
was neither necessary nor practised in Mogul times. Though the size of the 
Mogul army in the first half of the sixteenth century was quite big, if we 
take into account the vast population of the subcontinent, then the military 
participation ratio was quite small. Again, military service in South Asia 
during the Mogul and British eras, unlike in western Europe, remained a 

212 O'Hanlon, "Manliness and Imperial Service in Mughal North India". 

213 Datta, "Introduction", p. 4. 

214 Aquil, "OnlslamandA'u/Hn the Delhi Sultanate". 

215 Datta, "Introduction", p. 6. 



honourable profession. Small farmers, marginal peasants, and share-croppers 
earned more by joining the army, and low castes acquired Kshatriya status. 
In certain cases, many small farmers became zamindars after a successful 
military career, and ambitious zamindars became rajas after participating 
in a successful campaign. So service in the army was a channel for upward 
mobility. The Mogul army was not a rigid structure frozen in time, but a 
multi-dimensional organization that evolved with age. However, certain 
fundamental characteristics of the Mogul army can be elaborated. The Mogul 
army was not a state commission force but a coalition of forces raised and 
maintained by the different mansabdars (Persian and Turani adventurers, 
Hindu chieftains, etc.) operating under the overall control of the emperor. 
The Mogul army was not a national or Indian (if such a term could be used 
at all) army. The army did not recruit just from the territories under its 
control. The Mogul army was a multi-ethnic and multi-faith entity which 
drew a considerable number of personnel from outside its territory. From the 
religious perspective, the Mogul army comprised Muslims, Hindus, and some 
Christians. As regards the Muslims, the Mogul nobility consisted of both 
Shias from Persia and Sunnis from Turan (Central Asia). Both Hindus (Rajputs 
from Rajasthan and north India under Akbar and the Marathas from west 
India from Shah Jahan's reign onwards) and Muslims (mostly Afghans who 
settled in the subcontinent, i.e., Bihar during the Delhi Sultanate) from India 
were recruited in the army. Rather than the region's level of monetization, it 
was politics and the cultural ethos that dominated payment of the soldiery 
(especially the higher ranks). Military service was regarded as a means of 
becoming a landholder or to expand one's patrimony. Hence, payment in 
kind, i.e., land (except in the case of Sher Shah, an aberration in medieval 
India), remained dominant in the period under review. 

However, foreign and indigenous mercenaries and especially footmen 
were paid in cash for most of the time. Even in the heyday of the mansabdari 
system, the professional mercenary form of military employment continued. 
The Mogul army from Babur to Aurangzeb was dependent on the foreign pro- 
fessional mercenaries for manufacturing and manning gunpowder weapons 
during both battles and sieges. From Babur to Akbar, the dependence was 
on the Ottomans and Persians, and under Aurangzeb the Moguls relied on 
west European Christians. The latter development was due to a global shift 
in the eighteenth century, when western Europe became most advanced in 
the production and deployment of cannons, howitzers, and mortars. In the 
eighteenth century, the mansabdari system was replaced by the regimental 
system, the latter being characterized by regular cash payment, written 
regulations, and strict discipline. That, however, is a different story. 

On the Ottoman janissaries 
(fourteenth-nineteenth centuries) 

Gilles Veinstein 

The janissaries are probably one of the most famous military corps in world 
history. Nevertheless, they were only a part of the Ottoman army and not 
even the most numerous one. At any period in the Ottoman history they 
coexisted with a series of other military units, some of them created earlier 
(hence the name oiyeni geri, meaning "new troops"), others emerging in 
later times. All of these corps were of different natures as regards their 
modes of recruitment, the status of their members, their specific role in 
war, their method of remuneration, and so on. I shall concentrate on the 
corps (ocak) of the janissaries. 1 Over several centuries, they were both a 
cause of terror and a source of admiration for the West, but they were also 
a danger for the Ottoman rulers themselves, due to their tendency to rebel. 
Beyond these stereotypes, one has to keep in mind that they did not offer 
only one face during all their long history. On the contrary, they were in a 
process of constant change, especially as far as their recruitment sources 
and military value were concerned. 


The janissaries were established in the second half of the fourteenth cen- 
tury, probably under the reign of Sultan Murad I (there is some discussion 
on this point as well as on the origins of the corps in general, which remain 
somewhat obscure). 2 

1 General works on this corps include: Weissman, Les janissaires; Uzungarfili, Osmanli devteti 
teskildtmdan kapu kulu ocaklan; Murphey, Ottoman Warfare, 7500-1700, pp. 43-49, "Yeni qeri"; 
Veinstein, "Le janissaire etl'islamologue". Among the main sources that I shall refer to, I would 
also like to mention Petrosian, Meferfe-/ kanun-iyenigeri ocagi tarihi; Petrosian gives the Russian 
translation and the facsimile of the manuscript of St Petersburg, cited below as Kavdnin; for the 
Turkish edition of another copy of this work, see Akgiindiiz, "Kavanin-i yeniceriyan-i dergah-i 
ali". On this work, see Fodor, "Bir Nasihatname olarak 'kavanin-i yeniceriyan'". 

2 Palmer, "The Origin of the Janissary"; Papoulia, Ursprung und Wesen der Knabenlese im 
osmanischen Reich, pp. 74ft (reviewed by I. Beldiceanu-Steinherr in Revue des etudes islamiques, 
36, 1 (1968), pp. 172-176); Beldiceanu-Steinherr, "La conquete d'Andrinople par les turcs"; Kaldy- 
Nagy, "The First Centuries of the Ottoman Military Organization". 



From the beginning, the janissary corps was an infantry unit and a standing 
army (which not all the infantry components of the Ottoman army were). 
Furthermore, its members were not free men. They were slaves, even if of 
a particular kind: they were slaves of the sultan (kapi kulu, hiinkdr kulu). I 
shall return to the origins of these slaves. Initially, they were not allowed 
to get married. 3 Later, at the beginning of the sixteenth century, this ban 
would be abolished by Sultan Selim I. From then on, there would be two 
kinds of janissaries, married ones and bachelors. Only the latter would 
continue to live in the rooms {odd) of the barracks. There is no doubt that 
this change was of great consequence for the nature of this army. In any 
case, it remained common for the janissaries to be attracted to young boys 
and, more particularly, according to certain sources to youngjewish boys. 4 
Of course, it is always better not to generalize in such matters. 


If we try to define their military role more precisely, we must underline the 
fact that it evolved significantly over time. The janissaries were not, at the 
beginning, the most efficient part of the army nor the true instrument of 
the Ottoman conquest that they would become later on. Initially, they were 
mostly imperial bodyguards who aimed to protect the sovereign and to give 
a public image of his power and wealth during ceremonies, very much in the 
ancient tradition of the slave guards of the Muslim princes. 5 The janissaries 
never lost this part of their duties. Testimonies from different periods are 
available showing that they made a strong impression on ambassadors and 
other foreign visitors with their splendid, brightly coloured uniforms and 
their perfect discipline when they entered the second yard of the Topkapi 
Palace for official receptions. 6 

They continued to be bound by a close personal tie to the sultan, under 
whose direct patronage they always remained. One small manuscript in 
the Vienna Library is interesting in painting a vivid picture of the close 
relationship between the sultan, in this case Suleyman the Magnificent, 
and his janissaries: on the janissaries' side, they hold the deepest reverence 
which did not prevent them from making repeated and excessive financial 

3 According to a proverb, a married man is not a kul for the sultan: Kavdnin, fol. iov. 

4 See, for instance, Capsali, Seder Elyahu Zuta, I, p. 82. 

5 Bosworth, "Ghulam", parts I, "The Caliphate" and II, "Persia". 

6 See, among many examples, Fresne-Canaye, Le voyage du Levant, p. 62. 



demands; on the sultan's side, there is an authority which, under certain 
circumstances, may become unyielding, but which also gives rise, at other 
times, to a smiling humour, almost friendly, and even at times indulging 
in jokes. 7 

The importance of the janissaries in the military field would increase 
dramatically, in connection with two factors: first, they became a decisive 
tool in siege warfare, thanks to their specific ability to act as a monolithic 
and compact block in the final assault. The second and probably even 
more decisive factor was, following the example of the Balkan armies, 
the progressive adoption of firearms, more precisely the musket (tiifeng), 
instead of traditional weapons, in particular bows and arrows, starting 
from the beginning of the fifteenth century. In the Ottoman rulers' mind, 
the use of this new and revolutionary weapon was intended to remain the 
monopoly of the janissaries, in connection - one can imagine - with their 
status as a standing army under the direct supervision of the sovereign, 
which gave better opportunities for both training and control. An instruc- 
tor in chief (ta'Umhdneciba§i) was appointed by the sultan. In fact this 
monopoly quickly became obsolete, and firearms circulated among much 
larger sections of the population, partly because of quarrels between the 
various members of the Ottoman dynasty. 8 

The number of janissaries equipped with firearms (tiifenkli, tiifenk-enddz) 
began to increase under the reign of Mehmed II, and this continued under 
the subsequent reigns. As for the reign of Suleyman the Magnificent, it is not 
clear whether the tiifenk-enddz were more numerous or even whether the 
use of tiifenk was generalized among the janissaries. The same sultan was 
also famous for having expanded the state arms factories. In any case, the 
adoption of firearms was the Ottoman response to the military evolution 
of its enemies, especially the Habsburg troops, who proved to be terribly 
efficient with their excellent guns made in Germany. 

We have no details on the process of the adoption of firearms and we 
know nothing about the reception of this innovation by the troops, who 
had already demonstrated their corporatist mind as well as their propensity 
to mutiny. 9 It remains striking in this respect that, as late as the year 1551, 
Suleyman considered it necessary to request the aga, the head of the janis- 

7 Vienna, Osterreichische Nationalbibliothek, Turkish Manuscripts, no. 1815, Kdnundme-i 
Sultan Siileymdn (Fliigel, III, p. 250) [henceforth, Kdnunndme]. 

8 Turan, Sehzdde Bayezid Vak'asi, pp. 83-96; Inalcik, "The Socio-Political Effects of the Dif- 
fusion of Fire-Arms in the Middle East". 

9 We cannot consider the success of this change of arms as obvious if we bear in mind what 
the Habsburg ambassador, Busbecq, wrote about the failure of the vizier Rustem Pasha when 



saries, to train his men, so that - the sultan says - "they will become experts 
in the use of the musket". 10 Equally striking is the fact that the sultan is said 
to have been anxious, at each of his visits to the barracks of the janissaries, 
to see all the officers shooting, according to their hierarchical order, in the 
training area, luxuriously laid out by the same sultan. 11 In this context, the 
act of shooting appears both as a game and as a kind of rite, expressing the 
close relationship between the sultan and his slaves. 

At this stage of their evolution, the janissaries were no longer only the 
personal escort of the sultan. They also became the main factor in the 
Ottomans' military superiority. They took part in all the main campaigns, 
both on land and at sea, even in the absence of their patron, the sultan. 
In the same way, they were the elite of the fortress garrisons, scattered 
throughout the empire. 

To this evolution corresponds a spectacular increase in their numbers. 
Let me give some figures to give an idea of the corps' size. 


However hypothetical they may be, the oldest figures remained low: 
2,000 men in 1389, at the Battle of Kosovo; 3,000 under the reign of Murad II, 
in the first half of the fifteenth century. Later, they would increase from 
5,000 to 10,000 men, during the reign of Mehmed II, the Conqueror (fdtih), 
in the second half of the fifteenth century. This increase would have taken 
place in particular during Mehmed's wars with the Akkoyunlu sultan Uzun 
Hasan in the 1470s. The result was reached partly by the incorporation 
into the initial janissary corps of two new components that had existed 
independently until then, and that were devoted to the sultan's hunting 
activity: the sekban or seymen and the zagarci, all men in charge of the 
royal hounds. This explains the puzzling fact that several of the highest 
officers of the ocak retained designations in connection with hounds: such 
were the sekban ba§i, the zagarci bast, the turnaci ba§i, the samsuncu bast. 

Still later, under Mehmed's son, Bayezid II, the number of the janissaries 
would reach 13,000. To this end, Bayezid created a new section of the ocak: 

he tried in 1548 to arm with pistols 200 horsemen who were his own kuls; see Turkish Letters, 
pp. 123-124. 

10 "Yenicerim kullarim tiifenk atmaga idman eylemelerin emr ediib...": Tokapi Sarayi Miizesi 
Kiitiiphanesi, Manuscript KK888, doc. no. 30. 

11 Kdnunndme, fols 13-16. 



the so-called companies of the aga {aga boliikleri). Nevertheless, this peak 
was followed by a marked decrease just before Suleyman's reign, but things 
would change significantly during his long tenure (1520-1566), at the end of 
which their numbers stabilized at some 13,000 men, 12 a very high level for a 
standing army of the time. Nevertheless, one of the most recent historians 
of Ottoman warfare, Rhoads Murphey, has dwelt on the fact that, at any 
one time, only a portion of the total ranks were actually deployed at the 
front, the rest being confined to barracks in Istanbul or dispatched among 
the provincial garrisons. 13 

General organization and command 

Before going further, let us have a glimpse at the general organization of 
the janissary corps and its terminology: its structures reflect its complex 
formation. It consists of three main components: the so-called cema'at, 
which is composed of 101 regiments of sekban or seymen. Consequently the 
total number of the orta (also called boliik) amounted to 196 (which became 
195, when Murad IV decided to disband the sixty-fifth orta, considered to 
be responsible for Osman II 's assassination). At the head of each orta was 
a gorbaci (literally a "soup maker"). Another name for the chiefs of the 
regiments of the cema'at wasyayaba§i or serpiydde ("chief of the infantry- 
men"). Each gorbaci had a lieutenant (oda kethiiddsi or ba§odaba§i) under 
his orders, as well as a set of odaba§i ("chiefs of barrack-rooms"). An imam 
and a scribe were also available in each regiment. 

At the head of the ocak in its entirety was the "aga of the janissaries" 
(yenigeri agasi). Originally, he was chosen from among the members of 
the corps, but after Selim I's reforms he was one of the high dignitaries of 
the Palace and, once appointed, he became the first of the so-called rikdb 
agalari ("agas of the stirrup"). He depended directly on the sultan, with 
whom he had a close relationship. He had his own palace in the vicinity 
of the Siileymaniye mosque; he led his own council, the so-called yenigeri 
divdm. This council included the five highest officers of the corps, four of 
them mentioned above in connection with hounds and hunting: the aga's 
lieutenant (kuL kethiiddsi); the chief of the sekbdn who, at the time, was the 
supreme commander of the corps; the zagarci ba§i; the samsuncu ba§i; and 
the turnaci ba§i. Each of these high officers was at the same time chief of a 

12 Murphey, Ottoman Warfare, 7500-7700, p. 45. 

13 Ibid., p. 47. 



particular orta. Among the other high officers who were not members of the 
divan, let me mention the muhziraga ("bailiff aga"), who was the intermedi- 
ary between the ocak and the grand vizier; the big and the little hdsseki who 
were dispatched to the provinces to deal with questions concerning the 
corps; the ba§ gavu§ ("chief of the sergeants") who checked the execution 
of the decisions and supervised the incorporation of new recruits. 

Finally, the ocak had its own bureaucracy headed by the yenic eri efendisi 
("secretary of the janissaries"). He held the pay rolls (kotiik) and was the 
chief of the aga's chancery. 

Increase in membership and subsequent decline 

After Suleyman's era, starting from the reign of his grandson, Murad III, 
the number of janissaries increased dramatically and constantly. At the 
same time, standards of recruitment became more and more slack and 
the origins of the recruits much more diversified. The recruitment of new 
janissaries was hence no longer limited to slaves of the sultan nor, according 
to a tradition that had been established quite early on, to sons of janissaries. 
From now on, all kinds of foreigners (ecnebi) and "intruders" (saplama), 
including Turks, got access to the ocak, against the fundamental regulations. 
Thus, the corps lost its former homogeneity, which was, according to several 
of the authors of "books of advice" (nasihatndme), a cause of its decline. 
The same authors attributed these transformations - so reprehensible in 
their eyes - to the sovereigns' slovenliness and blindness. Nevertheless, 
as Murphey underlines, there is another possible interpretation of their 
behaviour: they would have been trying to meet growing military needs 
in the face of more and more powerful adversaries. Be that as it may, the 
burden became heavier and heavier for the Treasury. In 1574, the janissaries 
numbered 13,600; they amounted to 35,000 in 1597, 37,600 in 1609, and 
39,470 in 1670. The numbers reached 53,000 at the beginning of the eight- 
eenth century, at a time when the corps had lost all military efficiency. 14 
They remained merely a mighty pressure group in the state and society, 
as well as a terrible drag on the public finances, all the more so because, 
starting from 1740, Sultan Mahmud I, desperately searching for money, 
legalized the marketing of certificates (esdme) which gave the bearer the 
right to collect janissary wages. This period is generally considered to be the 
time of decay and corruption of the janissaries. The corps played a central 

14 Aksan, "Whatever Happened to the Janissaries?" 



role in the overthrow of the reforming sultan, Selim III, in 1808. As a result, 
his successor, Sultan Mahmud II, decided to abolish the corps in 1826, as a 
necessary precondition to the introduction of Westernizing reforms in the 
army. When the janissaries rose in revolt against this decision, the sultan 
had his artillery shoot them to pieces in their barracks on 18 June 1826, an 
incident known in Turkish history as the "auspicious event" (vakayi hayriye). 

After this general background, let me try to define the corps according 
to the criteria to be considered in the framework of our research program. 

A sultan's army 

The janissaries were clearly a state commission army or, to be more ac- 
curate, a sultan's army. Since their origin, they were intended for the sultan's 
exclusive use and put under his direct patronage. Even in the later period, 
when they became a part of the state apparatus and one military institu- 
tion among others, although the sovereign no longer took part in military 
campaigns in person, they kept some of their close ties with him. The fact, 
for example, that we come across sultanic orders concerning janissaries or 
janissaries' cadets (who will be discussed below), including orders deal- 
ing with very minor affairs, which are not ordinary fermans but edicts of 
the highest rank (hatt-i hiimdyun, which means that they were issued on 
the basis of a personal note written by the sultan with his own hand on 
the paper of the initial request), is significant: it is an expression of the 
exceptional status of these kuls. 15 

Pencyek and dev§irme 

At the beginning, starting from the fourteenth century, the members of 
the corps originated from a single source, the pencyek. 16 This Persian term 
(Arabic: khums) refers to the fifth part of the booty gathered during the raids 
and the fights against the infidels - the part which, according to Islamic law, 

15 See, for example, an order following a petition concerning the graduation of janissaries' 
cadets working in the Ibrahim Pasha Palace in Istanbul, with the note "hatt-i hiimayunumla 
fermdmm olmushdur" ("it was ordered with a note of my own majestic writing"): Istanbul, 
Basbakanlik Ottoman Arsivleri, Miihimme Defteri [henceforth, MD], LXIV, p. 42. 

16 Beldiceanu-Steinherr, "En marge d'un acte concernant le pengyek et les aqinci". The author 
gives an edition of the important regulation, referred to below, extracted from Bibliotheque 
nationale de France, fonds turc ancient 81, fol. 97r-v. 



belongs to the sovereign. This booty includes, among other goods, captives 
who were automatically enslaved by those who took them (unless they 
were intended to be ransomed). In fact, it appears that this pencyek could 
take two different forms, according to the period and the circumstances. 
On the one hand, it could be a simple tax of 25 akge (silver coins), a sum 
corresponding to the fifth part of the average value of a slave (i.e., 125 akge). 
This tax was levied at the frontier, at the point of the slaves' entrance into 
Ottoman territories. In this form, the pencyek survived, with or without the 
name, until the nineteenth century. On the other hand, the pencyek was 
nothing but the requisition, mainly on behalf of the sultan, of all the young 
male captives, between ten and seventeen years old (occasionally even older, 
but in that case the sultan had to pay for them), who had been enslaved in 
raids and who presented the required features of robustness, soundness, 
and physical integrity. The sources describing this second aspect of the 
pencyek, crucial for the janissaries' history, are rare. The most developed 
and explicit one is a relatively late edict issued by Sultan Bayezid II in 1493, 
which nevertheless, as the text points out, reformulates older provisions. 
On another side, this edict takes into consideration only those captives who 
were caught during raids launched in the enemy territory. Nevertheless, 
we know that the same kind of young captives were also taken in other 
contexts as well: successful sieges or pitched battles; likewise a portion of 
these captives - and, indeed, the best portion - was the sultan's own loot. 

As a consequence of the nature of the pencyek, the janissaries were 
initially recruited among foreign, non-Muslim young boys (it was forbidden 
by shari'a to enslave Muslims, except in extraordinary cases of judiciary 
punishment). It corresponded exactly to the so-called mamluk paradigm as 
it had been in force in the Muslim world since the Abbasid era. 17 According 
to this paradigm, which corresponds to a specific kind of military slavery, 
the aim was not to enslave already mature and experienced soldiers, but to 
search for untrained and inexperienced young boys who would not only be 
enslaved and forcibly converted but also systematically trained in special- 
ized schools. Some historians, such as D. Ayalon and E. de la Vaissiere, 
assumed, more or less explicitly, that such schools may have originated 
from Central Asian models. It is worth noting that in the account of the 
origins of the janissaries by the earliest Ottoman chroniclers, in the second 

17 Ayalon, "Preliminary Remarks on the Mamluk Military Institution in Islam"; Crone, Slaves on 
Horses; Pipes, Slaves, Soldiers and Islam. For a critical discussion, see La Vaissiere, Samarcande 
et Samarra. 



half of the fifteenth century, 18 this new unit appears as nothing more than 
the byproduct of the establishment of the pencyek levies a century before. 

Much more specific to the Ottoman case was the other method of acquir- 
ing new janissaries, which apparently was inaugurated a few decades after 
the institution of the pencyek. This second method partly replaced the first 
one after a time of coexistence in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. It 
was called devsirme, a Turkish term meaning "collecting" or "gathering", by 
reference to the levy of young boys, who were no longer foreign captives 
caught in the raids, but Christian subjects of the sultan. They were dhimmt, 
non-Muslim proteges of the sultan, who had lived in his European provinces. 
Later on, the same practice was also put in force in Anatolia. Young Muslims, 
especially Turks, were categorically excluded from the devsirme, with the 
exception of Muslim Bosnians who, for reasons that are not totally clear, 
were eligible for the system. 19 

The earliest mentions of devsirme operations go as far back as the very end 
of the fourteenth century. 20 Nevertheless, the practice seems to have become 
more regular starting from the second quarter of the fifteenth century, 
under the reign of Murad II. In spite of attempts to justify this institution 
from a legal and religious point of view, 21 it was an obvious violation of 
two fundamental provisions of shari'a: on the one hand, it implied the 
enslavement of dhimmt subjects; on the other, the levy was followed by 
a forcible conversion, since all these Christian boys entering the sultan's 
service had to become Muslims. 

Volunteers or not? 

Under such conditions, it seems at first glance completely unnecessary 
to ask whether these future soldiers were volunteers or not. Clearly, the 
young captives, entering the sultan's service as part of his pencyek, were 
not volunteers. As for the devsirme, records are extant of attempts to escape 
the requisition by flight or concealment of the boys, at the approach of the 

18 Giese, Die altosmanische Chronik des ', Die altosmanischen anonymen Chroni- 
ken Tevdrih-iAl-i 'Os man.. 

19 Menage, "Devshirme", and Inalcik, "Ghulam. Ottoman Empire"; Menage, "Sidelights on the 
Devshirme"; Ozcan, "Devsirme"; Papoulia, Ursprung und Wesen der Knabenlese in osmanischen 
Reich; Petrosian, "The Mabda-i Kanuni yeniceri ocagi Tarihi on the System of Devsirme". 

20 Vryonis, "Isidore Glabas and the Turkish Devshirme"; Demetriades, "Some Thoughts on the 
Origins of the Devsirme". 

21 See Wittek, "Devshirme and Shari'a". 



recruiting commissioners, or by corruption of these agents. Again, on the 
way from their homeland to Istanbul, some boys tried to run away; this 
was also the case at their arrival in the capital, where the forced conversion 
and the dispatching of the recruits took place. Later, in the first stages of 
the process of formation that I shall describe below, such attempts still 
occurred. 22 

Nevertheless, the question is more complex. If there is no doubt that the 
dev§irme was generally very unpopular, not to say that it was considered 
to be one of the darkest aspects of the Turkish yoke (as is obvious from 
Balkan literature and folklore), 23 on the other side, it remains true that 
for poor people, mostly peasants, it was also gateway to a better life, with 
better incomes and a better social position, in spite of the strain and the 
danger. It was true for a simple janissary, and much more so for the cream 
of the kuls, who could reach the highest positions in the state apparatus. 
As a consequence of these realities, some people who, being Muslims, were 
not eligible for the dev§irme, made efforts to enter fraudulently, to the great 
displeasure of the authorities. It is also true that when people, after the 
preliminary stages, became full members of the corps, they do not seem 
to have been inclined to desert. In other words, if there was constraint, it 
finally turned into a form of acceptance. I shall return to possible explana- 
tions for this acceptance. 

Moreover, with time, and this evolution can be traced as early as the 
beginning of the sixteenth century, not all the janissaries were the products 
of coercion, as in the pencyek or the dev§irme institutions. Specifically, as 
already mentioned, sons of janissaries (kuloglus) started being introduced 
into the corps, and the same was applied for young Muslims adopted by 
janissaries (veledeshes). 24 Likewise, the aga, head of the corps, was allowed 
to incorporate a number of proteges. In all these cases, entering the corps 
became a voluntary act. 

In the same way, for the people who, according to Mustafa Ali, were 
admitted in the corps, by the will of Murad III in 1582 on the occasion of the 
great circumcision feasts of his son Mehmed, this admission was a favour 
and by no means a requirement. With all these changes in the recruitment 
methods, janissaries passed progressively from forced recruits to volunteers. 

22 See, for instance, Istanbul, Bas, bakanhk Ottoman Ar§ ivleri, MD, III, p. 509, no. 1514; VI, p. 135, 
no. 284; IX, p. 14; XXI, p. 145; XXX, p. 108. 

23 See, for example, Georgieva, "Le role des janissaires dans la politique ottomane en les terres 

24 Kaldy-Nagy, "The Strangers (ecnebiler) in the 16th Century Ottoman Military Organization". 



Searching for the janissaries' identity 

However, it remains true that, during the most glorious period of the 
empire's history, mainly during the fifteenth and the first part of the 
sixteenth centuries, the Ottoman conquest, so loudly praised as a triumph 
of Islam, was in fact largely operated by men of Christian origin. If this 
paradox was already encapsulated in the "mamluk paradigm", it takes a 
particularly striking shape in the janissaries' case, since a major part of 
the conquests concerned were to the detriment of Christian lands. When 
historians look for an explanation of this paradox, it seems that they have 
to address the various components of the specific culture of the ocak. All 
of them converge into the making of a new identity, strong and satisfying 
enough to substitute for the old one (without erasing it altogether). 25 At the 
root of this identity was an esprit de corps, which is certainly shared by all 
corps but which, in this case, reached the highest degree for three reasons 
at least: a sharp consciousness of being part of a military elite in a close 
relationship with the sovereign and responsible for the empire's greatness; 
a common initiation into a rich corpus of symbols (for example, each orta 
had its own emblem) at work, in a series of rites, ceremonies, and feasts; and 
the prominent influence of Bektashism, a syncretic form of Islam. The close 
tie, even the symbiotic connection, between the ocak and this Ottoman 
Sufi order (tarikat) is well known, even if the exact chronology, causes, and 
conditions of the interface between the two communities are not altogether 
clear. Obviously, for chronological reasons, the tradition of the creation of 
the ocak by the "saint", Haci Bektash Veli, founder of the order, cannot be 
anything but a legitimizing legend. As a matter of fact, it is not even certain 
that the Bektashi impact moulded the corps from its very origin. The official 
affiliation came relatively late, not before the year 1591, during the reign 
of Murad III. Starting from that time, the great master of the order (baba) 
became the gorbaci of the ninety-ninth orta, and Bektashi dervishes were 
incorporated into the ocak where they became highly influential in every 
field, offering spiritual guidance to the soldiers. 26 

Nevertheless, there is no doubt that syncretic beliefs existed in the reli- 
gion of the janissaries a long time before the end of the sixteenth century, 
as it existed in the early stages of Ottoman history in general. Perhaps we 
have an echo of these beliefs, as they were in force in the second half of the 

25 Uzuncarsih, Osmanli devleti te§kildtmdan kapu kulu ocaklart , I, pp. 26-28; Vatin and 
Veinstein, "Paroles d'oglan, jeunes esclaves de la Porte". 

26 Kiiciikyalcin, Turna'nm Kalbi, pp. 111-120. 



fifteenth century, in the puzzling description of Islam which is to be found 
in the first pages of the "memoirs of the Serbian janissary", Konstantin 
Mihailovic. 27 A prominent place is given to 'Ali, the Prophet's cousin and 
son-in-law, whom he would have explicitly designated as his successor 
(in fact, he is always mentioned in the giilbank, the specific prayers of the 
janissaries). These Shiite features would be confirmed later by a special 
reverence, not only for Ali and his holy sword, called Zulfikar, but also for 
his two martyr sons, Hasan and Hiiseyn. At the same time, Konstantin also 
quoted Muslim preachers who combined an expected harshness against 
Christians with a more surprising love for Christ. In their view, Jesus had 
not been crucified, a lookalike being killed instead. "Jesus is of God's spirit 
but Mohammed is God's emissary", they say, along with, "What is Moham- 
med's will that is also Jesus'?" This reverence for Christ was interpreted as a 
consequence of the Christian origin of most of the janissaries at that time, 
but a definitive conclusion on the question remains out of reach. Anyway, 
it is not certain that it persisted in the later periods, while Shiite inspiration 
definitely did. How could Ottoman power, having been transformed into a 
champion of Sunnism in the meantime, tolerate this deviation in its military 
elite? It is another paradox of the janissaries. Maybe the fact that this Shiite 
imprint was nevertheless encapsulated in a tarikat, which obviously was a 
heterodox one, but at the same time firmly controlled by the state, by means 
of its centralization and hierarchical structure, made things easier. 28 Be that 
as it may, a degree of Shiism remained one of the peculiarities of the ocak's 
culture as well as a unifying factor for its members. 

Slaves paid in silver 

As I noted at the beginning, janissaries were not free men. They were slaves 
and remained so all their life. Their patron, the Ottoman sultan, never 
emancipated them (or very exceptionally, as a reward for extraordinary 
acts), in contrast to the mamluk sultans of Egypt who solemnly emancipated 
their own mamluks at the end of their training period in the barracks of 
the citadel of Cairo. At any rate, they were slaves, but slaves of the sultans, 
which made a big difference in comparison to ordinary slaves. As several 
Western travellers noticed, there was not a more honourable position in 

27 Mihailovic, Memoirs of a Janissary, pp. 3-27; the French translation is Mihailovic, Memoires 
d'un janissaire. 

28 Faroqhi, "Conflict, Accommodation and Long-Time Survival", pp. 19-20. 



the empire than to be slave of the sultan. The kul elite (of course, neither 
simple janissaries nor the corps officers but kuls who had become governors 
or viziers) married princesses of the reigning dynasty. They were never sold 
to private persons and were thus not in danger of being used for menial 
tasks. Not only could they exert the highest functions, but they were also in 
a position to accumulate greater or lesser fortunes and, according to their 
status, totally or partly bequeath them to their heirs. 

All these slaves were paid in silver money by the Treasury. This point may 
explain - at least in part - the fact that the Ottoman beys took some time to 
adopt a troop of this type, even though it was a piece of their Islamic inherit- 
ance: they needed to have reached a sufficient measure of monetization. As 
a matter of fact none of the previously established other troops were paid 
in money. As for the janissaries, the initial pay ('ulufe) was 2 akge per diem. 
But this amount, still very modest indeed, increased with time, through a 
succession of augmentations (terakki), and could reach 12 akge for a simple 
soldier. The concrete mechanism of these increases is not altogether clear: 
we cannot determine the roles of the military value to be rewarded and 
stimulated, of the length of service, or of favouritism. Officers' wages were 
much higher. The aga's reached the enormous amount of 400 akge daily. It 
is possible to see how the amounts varied through the numerous payroll 
muster lists (mevdcib defteri) kept in the archives. 29 

Janissaries were paid in regular quarterly instalments, in solemn cer- 
emonies in the second yard of the Topkapi Palace. As for the provincial 
garrisons, their wages were transported across the country with a security 
guard. Nevertheless, this precious load was sometimes attacked by bandits 
- this could happen even at the apogee of the empire, during Suleyman's 
reign. 30 Any shortcoming in these payments (as occurred in the so-called 
sivi§ years, the "effaced" years resulting from the gap between the solar 
and the lunar calendars) 31 or any adulteration of the distributed money 
led to riots among the troops. Besides these regular wages, they received a 
special bonus (bakh§i§) at every new enthronement. Extraordinary grants 
were also expected during the campaigns, as an incitement or a reward. To 
neglect these traditional grants was a serious risk for the sultan. Selim II 
experienced the consequences when he refused to give the bakh§i§ to the 
janissaries at the beginning of his reign, as did Osman II who, among other 

29 Darling, "Ottoman Salary Registers as a Source for Economic and Social History". 

30 Barkan, "H. 974-975 (M. 1567-1568) Mali bir Yilina ait bir Osmanh Biitcesi". 

31 Sahillioglu, "Osmanh Imparatorlugunda Sivis, Y1I1 Burhanlan". 



foolish mistakes, was not generous enough during the Polish campaign, 
resulting in his being deposed and in the end in his death. 32 

These official allocations were not the only source of income for the 
janissaries. It is well known that they were also involved in craft and com- 
mercial activities, mainly in the capital itself and also in the various cities 
where they were sent (as a way of getting rid of them in troubled times). 
Contrary to what has often been put forward, this passage from military to 
economic activities did not occur exclusively during the period of decline. 
It already existed in former centuries. However, in these earlier periods, 
crafts and trades were only occupations during the winter or the intervals 
of peace, 33 and not a substitute for military involvement, as it became the 
case later on. From this point on, close ties were created between the ocak 
and the guilds of the capital. 

Consequently, janissaries succeeded in accumulating properties that 
they left to their heirs. The countless probate inventories of janissaries, 
which are to be found in the kadi registers of many cities, provide precise 
data on this point. Both soldiers and businessmen - in proportions varying 
according to the period - could join a quite prosperous urban middle class. 34 

Trainees without much training 

Returning to the military activity of the janissaries, the question arises 
as to what extent they have to be considered true professional militaries, 
who are not only endowed with a practical experience of the job but who 
had been systematically trained in a preliminary stage of education, as the 
"mamluk paradigm" postulated it. 

According to my sources, at the very beginning, the boys recruited in the 
framework of the pencyekwere directly assigned to the janissary corps with 
an initial wage of 2 akge per diem. In other words, they were immediately 
operational without a preliminary training period. 35 However, this situation 
did not last. A few decades later, a new corps was established, the so-called 
'acemi oglan (literally "the foreign boys") based in the harbour of Gelibolu 
(Gallipoli) on the Dardanelles. A second branch of this corps, much larger 

32 Vatin and Veinstein, Le serail ebranle, pp. 221-224, 338-340. 

33 Murphey, "Yeni ceri". On the relationships between the janissaries and the corporations 
(esndf), see Kafadar, "Yeniceri-Esnaf Relations". 

34 Barkan, "Edirne Askeri Kassamina ait Tereke Defterleri"; Oztiirk, Askeri kassama ait 
onyedinci asir Istanbul tereke defterleri. 

35 Kavdnin, fol. 4v. 



in number, would be created in Istanbul, following the conquest of the city. 
The 'acemi oglan was meant to be a preliminary stage in janissary training. 
From now on, it was no longer possible to enter the corps immediately. One 
had to be an 'acemi oglan first. 

Before examining what the real function of this cadet corps was, I have 
to mention another preliminary stage, an initial one, which took place 
between the levy as pencyek or dev§irme boy and the incorporation into 
the 'acemi oglan. This first stage was carried out in the countryside, among 
Turkish farmers (Turk iizerinde olmak). The principle was to establish the 
young recruits "overseas", so that no flight to their homelands - a common 
temptation - was possible. That means that Rumelian boys were sent to 
Anatolia. Logically, the reverse (Anatolian boys sent to Rumelia) must have 
been true, but I have not come across evidence for this. This stay in the 
countryside was of quite a long duration: four to eight years, according to 
the sources. Nevertheless, it could be shortened when boys were needed for 
an urgent task in the capital. This rural stage did not exist initially and is 
said to have been established by Mehmed II. 36 A first aim was to make the 
boys stronger by using them in hard labour, as well as to accustom them to 
obedience and submission, but another important goal, which Mehmed II 
would have had in mind, was to allow them to learn Turkish. Consequently, 
'acemi oglan and janissaries would speak Turkish (certainly, writing in 
Turkish was another story, and the janissaries' literacy another question). 
According to some sources, the rural stage was also an opportunity for 
those converted to be initiated into the basis of their new religion (even 
if Anatolian peasantry were not an authority in these matters). It appears 
that this period staying "among the Turks" did not survive as long as the 
dev§irme system: it was no longer in force after the dev§irme campaigns of 
1622 and 1636. 37 

Now, if we come back to the 'acemi oglan, we are naturally inclined 
to consider the period spent in this body of cadets as a time of military 
preparation and training. Consequently, the fate of an 'acemi oglan would be 
necessarily to become a full janissary. As a matter of fact, they are frequently 
called yeniceri oglanlari (or in Persian gilmdn-iyenigeriydn), which means 
boys who are janissaries-to-be. Consequently, all studies on the janissaries, 
including the most recent ones, consider the 'acemi oglan to be a cadet corps 

36 Ibid., fol. 7r. 

37 Uzungar^ili, Osmanti devteti te§kUdtmdan kapu kulu ocaktari , p. 24. 



or trainees in connection with the janissaries. 38 However, this interpretation 
needs discussion and nuancing. 

First, I shall observe that the oldest traditions did not explain the creation 
of the new corps in that way. The sultan took this measure - they say - first 
to save money, since the initial wages of the 'acemi oglan were less than 
those of the janissaries (1 akge instead of 2); secondly, because he lacked 
a regular corps intended for a specific need: transporting troops in ships 
from the Asiatic to the European parts of the state across the Dardanelles. 39 

Now, taking these two preliminary stages into account, we can try to 
evaluate the number of years coming before the proper entrance into the 
janissary corps: the stay in the Turkish families is said to last possibly seven 
or eight years. Afterwards, the time spent as an 'acemi oglan is said to be 
about five to ten years. Thus, the total time of these preliminary stages 
would be from twelve to eighteen years. According to the "treaties of advice" 
(naslhatname) of the late sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, a period 
of fifteen to twenty years was an optimum. In one of these works, the 
kitab-i mustetab, the 'acemi oglan period is presented as even longer and 
divided into two parts: a six to seven-year period properly as an 'acemi 
oglan, followed by a five to ten-year period as gardeners (bostancis) of the 
imperial palaces. 

In any case, all these figures remain highly theoretical. We know through 
orders contained in the "registers of important affairs" (miihimme defteri) 
that these stages could, in fact, be either shortened or extended considerably, 
according to the circumstances. 40 On this point as on many others, Ottoman 
authorities were fully pragmatic. 

Be that as it may, it remains true that enlistment in the janissary corps 
did not occur very early in a man's life. Janissaries were not young men. It is 
all the more true that the dev§irme recruiters did not take the boys as young 
as it is frequently assumed. According to a specific law (kanun) dedicated to 
the institution, 41 the ages were between fourteen or fifteen and seventeen 
or eighteen years (remembering that for the pencyek boys the age was ten 
to seventeen years). In practice, the recruits could be even older; at least 
this was the case in a dev§irme register of the beginning of the seventeenth 

38 Still today, in the Turkish army, acemilik means the training period. 

39 Kavdnin, fbl. sr. 

40 For example, KK888, no. 1603; MD, VI, p. 223, no. 479; VII, p. 789, no. 2157; IX, pp. 14 and 122; 
XXI, p. 145; LIII, p. 173. It remains true that, when the authorities had to urgently remove the 
boys from the Turkish families, they were ordered to choose the ones who had been there for 
the longest time (eski). 

41 Akgiindiiz, "Kavanin-i yeniceriyan-i dergah-i ali", II, pp. 123-127. 



century. 42 We find that, at that time, 80 per cent of the boys were between 
fifteen and twenty and 50 per cent between eighteen and twenty years 
old. If we take all these figures into account - however hypothetical they 
may remain - we come to the puzzling conclusion that, when becoming a 
janissary, the man was somewhere between thirty-seven and fifty years, 
which is hardly believable. 

Let us add here that, once a janissary, the man would spend his whole 
career in the corps, unless he was upgraded to a more prestigious corps, i.e., 
one of the standing cavalry sections or one of the Palace corps, or acquired 
fief (timar) in the province, which, at least in certain cases, was considered 
a punishment and not a promotion. Finally, when a janissary was judged 
too old (ziydde ihtiyar), exhausted, and "out of use" ('amelmande), 43 he was 
retired (oturak, korucu, emekddr) and continued, as such, to belong to the 
corps, being given a pension. Such a pension (pturaklik) was also given to a 
soldier who became ill, disabled, or insane. The marked reverence for the 
old retired soldiers, among the members, can be counted among the signs 
of this esprit de corps that I emphasized above. 

If there was a long time between the first recruitment and the final 
entrance into the janissary corps (kapuya gikmak), this time does not appear 
to be a time of military training sensu stricto. There was nothing to be 
compared to the several-year, methodically organized training existing 
in the Cairo barracks of the mamluk sultans, according to the historian 
Makrizi. 44 

A glance at the mamluks' training 

Let us remember that in the fifteenth century, there were twelve barracks 
(tibdq, pi. tabaqd) in Cairo for the education of the "royal mamluks" (al- 
mamalik al-sultdniyya) who had to become first-class horsemen. Each 
barrack was capable of accommodating 1,000 mamluks. There was at least 
one religious man (faqih) per group of students to teach them the Qur'an, 
the Arabic script, some basic knowledge of shari'a, and the Muslim prayers. 
When the mamluks who had been bought quite young reached major- 
ity, they started their actual military training. Each group had a cavalry 

42 Istanbul, Basbakanhk Ottoman Arsivleri, Maliyeden miidevver, no. 7600. 

43 Kdnunndme, fbl. i6r. 

44 Ayalon, "Preliminary Remarks on the Mamluk Military Institution in Islam", pp. 9-17; Rabie, 
"The Training of the Mamluk Faris". 



[furusiyyd] instructor, a mu'allim, whose training included equestrianism, 
the lance game, archery, and fencing. Tuition in horsemanship consisted 
of several stages before the young man was able to sit firmly on a bareback 
horse. At the beginning he practised on horse models made of dry clay, 
stone, or wood. The first exercise was to jump over it correctly. Then a saddle 
was placed on the model and the mamluk practised jumping without, and 
then with, full equipment. In the following stage, the candidate practised 
training on a live horse. 

During his whole training, the mamluk was considered a simple student 
(kuttdbiya) without pay or personal goods of any kind. On the other hand, 
when his education was over (disregarding how many years it lasted and 
what age he had reached at this point), he received, as personal property, a 
horse, and clothing, as well as a set of arms (a bow, a quiver and arrows, a 
sabre, and armour). From that moment on, he was a true soldier, eligible for 
a wage, although it was of course the lowest one. In addition, he was given 
a certificate, called 'itdqa, which is not only proof that he had become a 
trained horseman but also as a mark of emancipation, since the mamluk 
who at last enters the sultan's service is no longer his slave. He was a free 
man even if he maintained a close link with his former patron. Thus, two 
important differences with the janissaries are to be noticed: the latter 
remained slaves and did not receive real military training. 

Back to the Ottoman trainees 

As long as the Rumelian boys lived with Anatolian Turkish families, they 
had to engage in livestock farming and agriculture, both tiresome chores 
(beld) which certainly made them stronger as well as more docile, giving 
them the opportunity to develop qualities already taken into account by 
the dev§irme recruiters upon selection. Such qualities may be necessary 
preconditions of military capacity, but they are not a substitute for military 
technical training. Furthermore, the 'acemi oglan stage does not seem to 
offer much military training either. As a matter of fact, all these young 
men were employed by the sultan, his family, and other grandees in a great 
variety of tasks that had nothing to do with proper military work. 

As we saw above, their initial duty was to work on the ships coming across 
the Dardanelles, as well as to transport heavy material (torba hizmeti). The 
same kind of tasks were ordered for the Istanbul 'acemi oglan as well, for 
ships coming across the Bosphorus, carrying different sorts of provisions for 
the imperial palace, such as firewood or snow collected in the mountains 



around Bursa. Domestic service in several palaces was also partly carried 
out by some contingents of 'acemi oglan. Another of their major occupations 
was to care for the imperial gardens in Istanbul and the surrounding areas 
as well as in Edirne and its district. For instance, in 1577, some 467 'acemi 
oglan were employed as gardeners in Edirne. 45 Another possible destina- 
tion of the recruits, probably in connection with some inborn gifts quickly 
discovered by the recruiters, was to become apprentices in the workshops 
of the Palace and thus to acquire high-level skills in one of the many crafts 
intended for the sultan's consumption and use. Thus in a list of 1526, we find 
former dev§irme or pencyekboys in twenty-six of the forty workshops of the 
Palace. 46 Likewise, when the sultan undertook the building of a new monu- 
ment, either a civil or a religious one, he naturally resorted to his 'acemi 
oglan. For instance, we find them on the Selimiye mosque construction in 
Edirne. 47 In the same way, they contribute to shipbuilding in the shipyards 
of Galata: many boys were mobilized after the destruction of the Ottoman 
fleet in Lepanto. 48 The authorities had the same reaction when a big fire 
devastated the capital. 49 In short, the 'acemi oglan appear to be more slave 
manpower at the disposal of the sultan to meet the various needs of the 
Palace and the state than a cadet corps for a professional army. A famous 
passage of the third of Busbecq's Turkish Letters has to be interpreted, at 
least partly, as an allusion to the 'acemi oglan: "If the State requires any work 
of construction, removal, clearance or demolition, slave labour is always 
employed to carry it out." 50 

It is also true that a proportion of 'acemi oglan will never become janis- 
saries. They will spend their entire carrier until their retirement as cadets, 
though not without an increase in their daily wages in time. 'Acemi oglan 
with grey hair and beards are mentioned, in particular among the garden- 
ers. 51 Why this inertia in the graduation? Perhaps because they became 
so good in their speciality that it would have been a pity to let them leave 
their job, or simply because they were forgotten, the authorities always 
remaining anxious to limit the number of janissaries, partly at least for 
financial reasons. 

45 MA XXX, p. 108. 

46 Veinstein, "A propos des ehl-i hiref et du dev§irme". 

47 MD, IX, p. 46, no. 122; XXII, p. 206. 

48 "Afe kadar dolgerlikve kalafdtcdik san'atim bUiirve sa'ir tersdneye mute'allik san'at biliir oglan 
var ise...": MD, X, p. 235. 

49 MD, LIII, p. 173. 

50 Turkish Letters, pp. 101-102. 

51 MD, X, p. 158, no. 240; LVI, p. 66, no. 134: "nicesinin sag ve sakalli ankarib pir olmusdur". 



These assertions, however, maybe somewhat too categorical and deserve 
some nuance. I cannot deny that one finds here and there some hints of 
military training of the 'acemi oglan. This is the case in an important source 
of the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries, the report of Teodoro 
Spandougino Cantacusino (Spandounes), according to which: 

Apres qu'ilz les auront oste de ce meschant mestier, ilz leur font 
apprendre a tirer de l'arc et des dards. Aprez, ils les despartent a divers 
capitaines a ce qu'ilz appreignent l'exercice des armes et aulcuns d'eux 
les mectent sur la mer. 52 

In the same way a later traveller, Gilles Fermanel, wrote in 1630-1632: 

Les Azamoglans qui sont en grand nombre, apres avoir long-temps 
servy aux jardinages, estant d'aage colmpetent, sont exercez a tirer de 
l'arquebuze, et apres sont faits Janisiaires. 53 

Such mentions coming from Western sources are not corroborated, as far 
as I know, by Ottoman sources. Moreover, the picture that they give of the 
facts sounds like an attempt at rationalization, which does not correspond 
to the more complex reality that I have hinted at, with a variety of situations 
and fates for the boys. Be that as it may, even if some training did exist, at 
least for a part of the 'acemi oglan, it was certainly but a minor part of these 
state slaves' agenda. 

Under these conditions, it was mainly through their experience on the 
field, and the lessons given to them by their veterans, that the janissaries 
learned how to fight. As a consequence, extended periods of peace, like 
during some of the eighteenth century, could not help but have a negative 
impact on their military value. 

52 Spandouyn Cantacasin, Petit traicte de I'origine des Turcqz, p. 104. 

53 Fermanel, Le voyage d'ltatie et du Levant, p. 76. 

Soldiers in Western Europe, c. 1500-1790 1 

Frank Tallett 

Particularly after the second half of the seventeenth century, when armed 
forces grew exponentially, armies typically ranked as the largest single 
employers within states. Thus, soldiers constituted the most numerous 
unified labour force within Europe. A consideration of troops within the 
framework of labour history is accordingly both appropriate and also long 
overdue, especially since in certain circumstances soldiers acted very 
much like modern workers. For example, it would not be out of line to 
regard military mutinies as among the largest and most effective strikes in 
European history before the emergence of labour militancy associated with 
the Industrial Revolution. However, generalizations about soldier-labour in 
Europe during the early modern period - taken here to encompass those 
decades falling roughly between 1500 and 1790 - have to be advanced cau- 
tiously and hedged around with caveats. This is for three principal reasons. 
First, there was considerable variety of practice both within and between 
polities with regard to the employment of soldiers, which makes generaliza- 
tion hazardous. Secondly, the period was characterized by considerable 
changes of practice. To be sure, the notion that these changes constituted a 
"military revolution", at least in the format originally proposed by Michael 
Roberts in the 1950s and subsequently amended by Geoffrey Parker, has 
been challenged and rejected by many specialists. But the debate over 
the "military revolution" has emphasized the extent of the changes that 
were taking place, though these occurred over a much longer timeframe 
than Roberts and Parker envisaged, and lay as much in the areas of state 
development, the economy, and the management of armies, for instance, 
as in the realms of weaponry, drill, and tactics. This chapter will seek to do 
justice to these changes in the space available without misrepresenting the 
reality of complex and uneven developments. Thirdly, precisely because the 
exploration of soldier-labour is so important and almost unprecedented, the 
effort must be undertaken with care so as to avoid distorting categories and 
conclusions by imprudently constructing generalizations about military 

1 I wish to thankjoel Felix and Beatrice Heuser for their comments on an early draft of this 
paper. I am especially grateful to John Lynn for his advice and permission to use some of the 
ideas and material from his "Comments on Mercenary Military Service in Early Modern Europe", 
paper presented at the IISH Conference in March 2010. 



labour from the study of the civilian workforce or by too freely imposing 
concepts generated by modern labour studies onto an earlier era. As military 
institutions and practices are incorporated within a broader labour history, 
it is important to respect the integrity of the military past. These points 
need to be borne in mind not least of all with regard to the many and varied 
forms of recruitment that were to be found in the early modern period. 

Methods of recruitment, c. 1500-1650 

To fill the ranks of their armies, early modern governments made use of a 
variety of methods of recruitment, which stood on a spectrum between the 
involuntary and the voluntary. In different ways, all drafted recruits forcibly 
by making use of the generally accepted - if vague and ill-defined - notion 
that adult male subjects had some responsibility to bear arms in defence of 
their homeland. Sweden, with its tiny population (1.25 million in 1620), its 
need to raise forces to defend its newly won independence from Denmark 
in the sixteenth century, and its desire to pursue its bellicose ambitions in 
the following century, came closest to constructing a system of universal 
conscription. As a result of initiatives launched by Gustavus Vasa (1523-1560) 
and developed by Gustavus Adolphus (1611-1632), lists of able-bodied males 
aged over eighteen years were drawn up annually and used by conscript 
commissioners to select the required number of men. Nobles, clerics, and 
some peasants, as well as apprentices in the royal gardens and church 
organists, were exempt from the draft. Yet the system was remarkably 
wide-ranging. Almost 50,000 men were conscripted between 1626 and 1630, 
and under Charles XII (1697-1718) levies were taken more than once per year. 
Significantly, the conscripts could be required to serve outside their home- 
land. 2 Other states, including Habsburg Spain and Brandenburg-Prussia, 
considered the use of conscription, but none adopted it in a fully fledged 
form until it was introduced by France in the unprecedented circumstances 
of the revolutionary and Napoleonic wars. 

Sweden went furthest in employing conscription, but many other poli- 
ties -including towns as well as national governments - made use of the 
obligation to bear arms to forcibly recruit men into militias. True, the local 
nobility in Bavaria and Brandenburg hesitated at the thought of arming their 

2 Glete, War and the State in Early Modern Europe, pp. 179, 189-191, 194-195, 201-206; Tallett, 
War and Society in Early-Modern Europe, pp. 82-83. 



tenants, but elsewhere nobles and rulers had no such compunctions. 3 In 
England, for example, the militia system received a new lease of life under 
Henry VIII. All those with £10 in land and the equivalent in goods were 
obliged to keep weapons and armour and be ready to serve the king. The 
enquiry of 1552 revealed the existence of 128,250 available men, though 
their military knowledge and ability to equip themselves was patchy. 4 
Venice similarly rostered 20,000 militia to defend the terraferma in 1528 
and a number of German states and towns reorganized their militias for 
local defence in the crisis years of the Reformation and the Thirty Years 
War. 5 In practice, militias proved to be of dubious military value. Poorly 
equipped and lacking training, they were unable to confront professional 
forces, and their reluctance to serve away from their immediate locality 
further restricted their usefulness. However, as we shall see, after c. 1650 
they would be reconfigured by inventive rulers who employed militias to 
bulk out their regular forces. 

Governments also forcibly drafted men whom they regarded as harmful 
to society or otherwise useless. This was not a novel expedient: up to 12 per 
cent of men serving in English forces between 1339 and 1361 may have been 
criminals. 6 On average, the English crown recruited 6,500 men annually for 
overseas service between 1585 and 1602, many of them ne'er-do-wells. 7 The 
Tudor administration in Ireland was especially keen to encourage social and 
economic stability by freeing the body politic of undesirables. It periodically 
emptied the prisons of Ulster, leaving the province "in more complete peace 
and obedience than has ever been seen since the Conquest", according to 
one seventeenth-century English administrator. 8 Similarly, the republic of 
Genoa enlisted Corsican bandits, although it did promise a pardon at the 
end of their service. 9 However, the impressment of dissolute persons should 
not be exaggerated and probably looms larger in the historiography than 
is warranted. 10 Rogues, vagabonds, and criminals made bad soldiers, and 
commanders were reluctant to have too many in their forces. Sir Francis de 

3 Schnitter, Volkund Landesdefension, pp. 123-130. 

4 Goring, "The Military Obligations of the English People", pp. 112-137, "The General Proscrip- 
tion of 1552". See also Fissel, English Warfare, 7577-7642, pp. 61-66. 

5 Mallett and Hale, The Military Organization of a Renaissance State, p. 353; Albert, "Staat 
und Gesellschaft, 1500-1745", pp. 11, 591. 

6 Hewitt, The Organization of War under Edward III, pp. 29-30. 

7 Hammer, Elizabeth's Wars, pp. 245-247. 

8 Quoted in O'Reilly, "The Irish Mercenary Tradition in the 1600s", p. 390. 

9 Braudel, The Mediterranean and the Mediterranean World in the Age of Philip II, II, p. 749. 

10 See the exaggerated comment in Motley, A History of the United Netherlands, IV, p. 69, for 



Vere was accordingly "careful to send them back again" to England from his 
command in the Netherlands when he discovered their origins. 11 However, 
governments in the eighteenth century would make increased use of their 
power to draft such men in their efforts to find recruits for their burgeoning 

Standing somewhere between voluntary and involuntary forms of 
recruitment was what might best be termed the quasi-feudal system. The 
socio-cultural identity of the nobility remained bound up with military 
endeavour, and the medieval notion that nobles had a feudal obligation 
to fight for their ruler retained some vigour. Accordingly, rulers in the 
sixteenth century still resorted to the customary way to raise troops by 
calling upon their nobles to turn out accompanied by their retinues. Thus 
the ban and arriere ban were deployed in France with a degree of success, 
though some individuals chose to make a financial contribution rather 
than serve in person. 12 Here, the great nobility retained an important role 
in the provision of the cavalry. 13 In England, the great nobility were less 
important than in previous decades, and the crown relied more upon the 
lesser gentry, though members of the court nobility still had an important 
if neglected role. 14 Nobles assembled their retinues in various ways: they 
recruited volunteers; they established contracts with subordinate officers to 
find men; and they called out their dependants, affinities, and tenants who 
had little choice but to follow their lord. For instance, the Earl of Leicester, 
who was authorized by Elizabeth I to raise 500 infantry in 1585, responded 
by insisting that his tenants, whose leases obliged them to serve "in tyme 
of warre", should follow him into the field. 15 Nobles continued to obey their 
ruler's summons to arms in this way throughout the sixteenth century, 
not least because they used their role as recruiting agents to strengthen 
their position vis-a-vis the crown but also over their own dependants. 16 The 
numbers that could be raised in this way were not insignificant. The Earl 
of Pembroke reportedly brought 2,000 men from his Welsh estates during 
the Western rebellion of 1549 though, as this example suggests, the use of 

11 Quoted in Trim, "Fighting 'Jacob's Wars'", p. 232. 

12 Lot, Recherches sur les ejfectifs des armeesfrancaises, pp. 258-261. 

13 Potter, Renaissance France at War, pp. 177-179. 

14 Goring, "The Military Obligations of the English People", pp. 112-137; Grummit, "The Court, 
War and Noble Power in England". 

15 Adams, "The Gentry of North Wales and the Earl of Leicester's Expedition to the Nether- 
lands", pp. 133-134, "Military Obligations of Leasehold Tenants in Lancastrian Denbigh", p. 206. 

16 Gunn, Grummit, and Cool, War, State and Society in England and the Netherlands, pp. 51-60, 
138-142, 144-148; Boynton, The Elizabethan Militia, pp. 76-88. 



these semi-feudal retinues was generally restricted to local service within 
the homeland. 17 But, as time went on, a declining proportion of the noble 
class proved willing to honour their "feudal" obligations, and the system fell 
into disuse. Nobles nevertheless continued to associate their social status, 
and the privileges it brought, with martial virtues and military service. As 
we shall see, in the eighteenth century rulers played upon this to make use 
of them as recruiting agents. 

It was generally agreed that volunteers made better soldiers than pressed 
men. As one captain observed, "it is most sure [...] that persuading without 
pressing will carry most and make the best soldiers". 18 This was one reason 
why states preferred to use voluntary methods of recruitment. Three main 
systems for voluntary recruiting can be identified, though they shared some 
important characteristics. The first involved the use of commissioned offic- 
ers. Typically a captain would be issued by a ruler with letters patent that 
left him free to appoint his junior and non-commissioned officers (NCOs) 
and that designated the area in which he could recruit. He, together with a 
small party that included veterans whenever possible attracted volunteers by 
broadcasting the need for men and by making soldiering appear as attractive 
as possible through various means of public display - beating a drum, unfurl- 
ing the colours, recounting tales of heroic military action - as well as through 
the purchase of copious amounts of alcohol and the payment of a bounty. 
Recruiting by commission was used both to raise new companies and to 
maintain existing ones at something approaching full strength, and was 
employed throughout western Europe. As one veteran commentator noted, 
"The levying of souldiers [...] by the sound of the drumme [...] is generally 
used over the most partes of Christendome." 19 It reached a peak of efficiency 
in sixteenth-century Spain where the monarchy raised an average of 9,000 
men annually with up to 20,000 being recruited in some years, though the 
strains of war eventually took their toll and Philip II's successors reverted 
to more traditional means, handing over responsibility for recruitment to 
local towns and nobles as administration gave way to asiento. 20 

The second method of voluntary recruitment involved negotiating an agree- 
ment, the Bestallung, with a military contractor for the delivery of a specified 
number of troops at an agreed time and place. The contract also set out the 

17 Dictionary of National Biography, 63 vols (London, 1885-1903), IX, pp. 671-672. 

18 Quoted in Trim, "Fighting 'Jacob's Wars'", p. 229. 

19 F. Markham, Five Decades of Epistles ofWarre (London, 1622), p. 30, quoted in Trim "Fighting 
'Jacob's Wars'", p. 236. 

20 Thompson, War and Government in Habsburg Spain, pp. 103-145. 



terms of service, including levels of pay, duration, and the forms of warfare 
in which the troops could be involved. Particularly in demand were German 
Landsknechte, all-arms units noted for their reliability in battle, together with 
specialist forces including Swiss pikemen, German Reiter or pistoleers, and 
Albanian and Savoyard light cavalry. Contract troops developed a reputation 
for being assertive in defence of their rights, refusing to fight if they were not 
paid, for instance, and they were not cheap. However, they comprised a high 
proportion of veterans, came ready trained and equipped, and acquitted 
themselves so well on the battlefield that few states dared do without them. 

One disadvantage of contract troops was that money not only had to be 
found "up front" to employ them, but a continuing revenue stream was also 
essential to retain their services. This was always going to be difficult for 
cash-strapped governments. The situation was just about workable during 
the sixteenth century when wars had lasted for no more than two or three 
campaign seasons, but conflicts began to increase in duration, especially 
after the temporary lull provided by the Peace of Cateau-Cambresis (1559), 
putting increased strain on state finances. This opened up the potential for 
a novel form of contracting which, following Fritz Redlich, I will designate 
"general contracting". 21 The general contractor differed from the traditional 
mercenary contractor of the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries in 
that he did not merely raise a troop in return for initial costs. Instead, he 
met these initial and some ongoing costs - recruitment, wages, equipment, 
and supplies - well into the campaign, eventually recouping his outlay 
and making a profit by the receipt of tax revenues, lump sum payments, 
{Contributions levied on friendly and enemy territory, and booty. The unit 
was "owned" by the contractor who had raised it and thus proprietorship 
as well as entrepreneurship became significant features of warfare in the 
late sixteenth and first half of the seventeenth centuries. 22 

The system of general contracting reached a peak during the Thirty Years 
War (1618-1648). Fought largely within the German theatre, but involving 
almost all the European states, the conflict demanded unprecedented 
numbers of troops. Rulers lacked the necessary native manpower, the 
administrative structures, and the liquid cash to recruit and supply the 
soldiers themselves and turned to the services of general contractors, who 
undertook the provision of whole regiments and even armies. The foremost 
employer was the Holy Roman Emperor who had large potential assets in 
the form of land and tax revenues, but lacked the administrative machinery 

21 Redlich, The German Military Enterpriser and His Workforce, remains the classic study. 

22 Parrott, "From Military Enterprise to Standing Armies", esp. pp. 79-83. 



in his Austrian lands to mobilize these. 23 France stood out against the trend, 
but even it was obliged to make limited use of general contractors. 24 The 
leading enterpriser was Albrecht von Wallenstein. His army lists recorded 
total paper strengths in 1625 of 61,900, rising to 150,900 five years later. 25 
To recruit and supply forces on such a huge scale perforce involved the 
contractor in establishing networks with subcontracting colonels and cap- 
tains who "beat the drum" and produced the volunteers. Not only that, but 
the contractor made agreements with financiers and bankers, merchants, 
munitionnaires, arms manufacturers, and others to supply the army with 
food, munitions, equipment, and pay. Accordingly, regiments or armies such 
as those raised by Ernst von Mansfeld, Bernhard of Saxe-Weimar, Albrecht 
von Wallenstein, Johan Baner, or Lennart Torstensson represented the ac- 
cumulation of venture capital on a huge scale, and the commander presided 
over a group of stakeholders who all expected a return on their investment, 
whether that investment be financial or purely military, with implications 
for the relationship between soldier and employer, as we shall see. 

Methods of recruitment, c. 1650-1790 

From the second half of the seventeenth century, methods of recruitment 
changed in a number of significant ways. In the first major development, 
states made greater use of involuntary recruitment. They continued to draft 
criminals and ne'er-do-wells, but in larger numbers than before. The war 
minister of France, the Comte de St Germain, noted in 1775 that, "As things 
are, the army must inevitably consist of the scum of the people, and of all 
those for whom society has no use." 26 More importantly, states developed the 
obligation to perform military service to draft men into militias. These could 
be used for special purposes, such as policing Huguenot areas, serving as a 
reserve in time of war, or providing a mechanism for drafting men directly 
into the regular forces. Of the great powers, it was France under Louis XIV 
that led the way. Every parish was obliged to provide a recruit who could 
be taken into the regular army. In this way more than 250,000 men were 

23 He employed twice as many contractors as Sweden: Redlich, The German Military Enterpriser 
andHis Workforce, I, p. 206. 

24 Parrott, "French Military Organization in the 1630s", pp. 160-163, Richelieu's Army. 

25 Kollmann, DocumentaBohemicaBellum Tricennale Illustrantia, IV, pp. 414-446. There were 
around 210,000 soldiers employed in Germany in 1648: Parker, The Thirty Years War, p. 191. 

26 Quoted in Ducros, French Society in the Eighteenth Century, p. 294. On Prussia, see Wilson, 
"Social Militarization in Eighteenth-Century Germany", pp. 16-18. 



raised between 1701 and 1713, representing 46 per cent of the native recruits 
who fought during the War of the Spanish Succession, while some 120,000 
militia were drafted to replace garrisoned veterans in the 1740s. 27 Although 
heartily detested, militia service was supportable because the wealthy and 
well-connected were able to buy themselves out. Many German states made 
even greater use of the militia. In Bavaria, Mecklenburg, and Wiirttemberg 
under the regency of Friedrich Karl (1677-1693), militia formations were 
raised and then drafted into the regular army as the need arose. Elsewhere, 
as in Saxony, Mainz, and Wiirzburg, the intermediate militia stage was 
omitted and men on the militia lists were taken straight into the army. In 
Prussia in 1733, Hesse-Cassel in 1762, and Austria between 1771 and 1780, a 
canton system of recruitment was adopted (Kantonverfassung), with each 
regiment being allocated a district from which it drew regular annual levies, 
the compulsory element of service being supplied by the obligation that had 
existed to enrol in the militia. 28 

The second major development concerned the system of military con- 
tracting. This did not end altogether after 1650, but it changed markedly. The 
general contractors who had figured so prominently in the Thirty Years War 
disappeared from the scene, and military contracting in its classical sense 
was substantially modified. Military contracting had always represented a 
standing affront to princes' sovereignty. This was what Stephen Gardiner had 
been getting at in 1545 when he wrote of the need "to eskape the thrawldom 
to such noughty mennes service". 29 Moreover, some contractors in the Thirty 
Years War had displayed signs of a dangerous autonomy. Cardinal Richelieu 
commented about Bernhard of Saxe-Weimar, "An excellent commander 
but so much for himself that no-one could be sure of him". 30 Accordingly, 
the use of general contractors was phased out and the role of the private 
entrepreneur was diminished. For a while, the market for contract troops 
was left to the younger sons of German princes who had no personal 
patrimony or hope of royal succession. 31 But from the late seventeenth 

27 Corvisier, L'armeefrancaise de lafm duXVIIe siecle au ministere de Choiseul, I, tables pp. 157, 
248; Lynn, Giant of the Grand Steele, pp. 369-393. See also Girard, Le service mititaire en France 
a lafm du regne de Louis XIV. 

28 Summarized in Wilson, War, State and Society in Wiirttemberg, pp. 79-81. See also Ingrao, 
The Hessian Mercenary State; and Duffy, The Army of Frederick the Great, pp. 54-57. 

29 Muller, The Letters of Stephen Gardiner, p. 180. 

30 Quoted in Wedgwood, The Thirty Years War, p. 366. But see the revisionary comments of 
Parrott on Wallenstein: "From Military Enterprise to Standing Armies", p. 85. The traditional 
view of his treachery is given in "Wallenstein", in G. Martel (ed.), Encyclopedia of War, 5 vols 
(Chichester, 2012), V, pp. 2350-2352. 

31 Barker, "Military Entrepreneurship and Absolutism". 



century and throughout the eighteenth, a substantial number of rulers 
began to rent out their armies to foreign employers. The states concerned 
in this "soldier-trade" were principally German but included others such as 
Savoy-Piedmont and Sweden under the regency of Karl XI. In return for the 
hire of its forces, Sweden took "subsidies" from France using the money to 
retain a credible army in Pomerania. 32 The eighteenth-century market for 
the hire of soldiers was dominated by states from within the Holy Roman 
Empire, including Hesse-Cassel, Hanover, Wiirttemberg, Bavaria, Saxony, 
the Palatinate, and Wiirzburg. 33 Significantly, many of the troops who were 
hired out had been forcibly drafted into the army with implications for 
scholars seeking to construct a taxonomy of army types, as we shall see. 

As well as relying on impressed men, militias, and hired forces, states 
also developed their systems for finding volunteers. Even in Prussia, which 
relied heavily upon impressment, more than half the army continued to 
be volunteers. 34 How were these found? As noted above, the quasi-feudal 
system of recruitment was already in terminal decline in the sixteenth 
century. Nobles nevertheless continued to associate their social status with 
martial virtues and military service, and rulers made use of this to engage 
their social and political elites in the recruitment and maintenance of their 
forces. 35 Many nobles were prepared to put themselves and their private 
fortunes at the disposal of monarchs in the expectation of gaining prestige 
and because, quite simply, this was what was expected of them. One way 
of encouraging nobles to do so was by formally implementing a system of 
venality under which officers purchased their commissions, as happened 
most notably in France. 36 Although venality theoretically gave officers 
ownership of their office and not of their men, in practice they were still 
expected to recruit their unit. They did so by public appeal to volunteers, 
by using their influence over dependants, and by deploying their private 
retinues in those instances where they still maintained them. Equally, 

32 Storrs, War, Diplomacy and the Rise of Savoy, ch. 2; Upton, Charles XI and Swedish Absolutism, 
pp. 14-15, 94-97- 

33 On the soldier-trade, see Hartmann, Geld als Instrument Europaischer Machtpolitik, Karl 
Albrecht-Karl VII, pp. 150-160; Wilson, War, State and Society in Wiirttemberg, ch. 3; Ingrao, The 
Hessian Mercenary State; Atwood, The Hessians; Brauer, Die Hannoversch-Englischen Subsidi- 

34 Wilson, "Social Militarization in Eighteenth-Century Germany", p. 5. 

35 Parrott, "From Military Enterprise to Standing Armies"; Glete, War and the State in Early 
Modern Europe, pp. 52-66. 

36 Rowlands, The Dynastic State and the Army under louis XIV, "Louis XIV, Aristocratic Power 
and the Elite Units of the French Army". On problems with venality in the later eighteenth 
century, see Felix and Tallett, "The French Experience, 1661-1815", pp. 158-159. 



nobles were expected to use their own resources to equip, pay, and feed 
their men when state funding ran out, as it invariably did. Venality gave 
officers an incentive to invest their personal resources in the recruitment 
and maintenance of their units, since they would be more likely to get a 
return on their investment over the longer term. Profits could be made, for 
example, by selling rights of leave, from the supply of food and equipment to 
the men, and from the sale of subordinate officerships and NCO positions. 
Even where venality was not introduced, nobles could still be lured into 
accepting a commission and acting as a recruiting agent by the expectation 
of making a profit through the Kompaniewirtschaft, the system whereby 
captains made money from administering the finances of a company of 
soldiers. Austrian colonels expected to earn 10,000 gulden annually. 37 Prus- 
sia resisted the trend, though here the lack of alternative employment forced 
nobles into the army. Proprietorship and entrepreneurship thus continued 
to be important within armies throughout the early modern period, and 
integral to the process of raising and maintaining forces. 

Looking at the period 1500-1790 overall, three points stand out. First, 
governments used a variety of systems to recruit their forces. These systems 
reflected the nature of the early modern state, and in particular the relative 
fiscal and administrative weakness of central authority. This obliged gov- 
ernments to rely upon the use of contractors, including general contractors 
for a time, as well as upon their social and political elites to recruit and 
maintain armies. Even when the use of general contractors was phased 
out after c. 1650, states still found it easier to hire troops rather than raise 
them ab initio, and the dependence of rulers upon the co-operation of their 
nobilities, who served as intermediate agents of government, remained 
very considerable. 

Secondly, despite the increased use of impressment, volunteers consti- 
tuted the majority of recruits before the French revolutionary wars when, 
confronted with an apparently overwhelming coalition of European states, 
the nascent republic introduced the levee en masse in 1793 and further 
refined its procedures for conscription through the Jourdan-Delbrel law 
of 1799. The readiness of men to volunteer for military service can be 
chiefly explained by the overcrowded state of the labour market. For most 
volunteers, the army was an employer of last resort, and they signed on 
only because there was nothing better to be had. To be sure, a few may have 
joined to throw off the humdrum workaday world of civilian employment. 
"To bee bound an apprentice, that life I deemed little better than a dog's 

37 Asch, "War and State-Building", p. 326; McKay, Prince Eugene of Savoy, p. 11. 



life and base", wrote Sydnam Poyntz in explanation of his decision to join 
up. 38 Others welcomed the chance to see the world, or the opportunity 
to enjoy the unrestrained licentious behaviour that characterized what 
Erasmus termed "the wicked life of the soldier", 39 while for yet others the 
army offered the chance of glory. Francis I, the Holy Roman Emperor (1745- 
1765), noted that "what the natives of Ireland even dislike for principle, they 
generally will perform through a desire for glory". 40 Yet most recruits agreed 
to serve for the prosaic reason that they simply had no other way to make 
a living. Hardship and need were the best recruiting sergeants and drove 
men into armies. Even Poyntz confessed his true reason for enlisting: "My 
necessitie forced mee, my Money being growne short, to take the manes 
of a private soldier." 41 The impoverished recruit created by the playwright 
Calderon de la Barca summed up the situation for the overwhelming major- 
ity of volunteers: "Only great need drives me to the war, I'd never go had 
I money in store." 42 Recruitment patterns were accordingly closely linked 
to economic cycles. Volunteers were easiest to find in the autumn months 
as agricultural labourers were laid off, or in the wake of a slump. Edward 
Coss has demonstrated that enlistment in the British army soared at times 
of economic downturn. 43 Of course, one might question whether potential 
recruits faced with a choice between starvation and signing-on were in any 
meaningful sense "volunteers". But the fact that they were theoretically free 
agents, and there was no legal compulsion on them to join, means that we 
should locate them on the "free" end of the axis of our graph. 

Thirdly, the ready supply of volunteers meant that governments through- 
out our period could use impressment and militia service as a last resort 
to top up their forces, drawing upon those elements judged to be of little 
use to society and who had no political clout. There was greater resort to 
involuntary recruitment in the later seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. 
This was brought about by an expansion in the number of men under arms. 
Historically, around 1 per cent of the population has represented the ceiling 
for sustainable recruitment, but this figure began to be routinely exceeded 
with Louis XIV's France leading the way. Peacetime levels of about 10,000 
and 60,000-80,000 for major wars before 1650 soared to totals of 130,000 

38 Goodrick, The Relation of Sydnam Poyntz, p. 45. 

39 Quoted in Hale, War and Society in Renaissance Europe, p. 127. 

40 Quoted in McGinn, "St Patrick's Day in Vienna, 1766", Irish Roots Magazine, 1 (1996), pp. 10-11, 
cited in O'Reilly, "The Irish Mercenary Tradition in the 1600s", p. 384. 

41 Goodrick, The Relation of Sydnam Poyntz, p. 45. 

42 Quoted in Stradling, Europe and the Decline of Spain, p. 124. 

43 Coss, All for the King 's Shilling. 



and 360,000 respectively by the 1690s, representing over 2 per cent of the 
French population. Prussia during the Seven Years War (1756-1763) had 
250,000 men under arms, around 5 per cent of the population of 5 million, 
and kept an army of 150,000 in peacetime. Britain similarly came close to 
the 2 per cent mark during the Seven Years War and War of American In- 
dependence. 44 These wartime highs proved unsustainable in the long term, 
but they nonetheless represented an increase on earlier decades, and by the 
eighteenth century most European states had wartime military establish- 
ments that were four or five times bigger than those of their predecessors 
200 years previously. 45 One consequence of the increased number of men 
under arms was the need to make greater use of involuntary methods of 
recruitment. These methods were deployed especially by those states, such 
as Prussia, that maintained disproportionately large armies in relation to 
their population, and whose limited tax base and under-commercialized 
economies made it difficult to mobilize liquid resources. 46 

The rewards of soldiering 

Whatever the process that led to their recruitment, all soldiers expected 
to be compensated for what they did. This included receipt of pay, and in 
certain respects being paid made them similar to civilian wage-labourers. 
Pay rates for the "average" soldier - if such a thing existed - were on the low 
side but broadly consistent with those in the civilian labour market. The 1514 
Statute of Artificers in England set the wages of skilled craftsmen at 6d per 
day, with other labourers at 4d. By comparison an ordinary infantryman 
received some 6d in mid-century. When inflation is taken into account 
this was hardly generous but not out of line with what one might expect. 47 
Moreover, soldiers with specialist skills who were in short supply received 
additional rewards, so that manifold gradations of pay existed in early 
modern armies. Thus the company assembled by Count Brissac for royal 
service in 1567 included three commissioned officers, two NCOs, a quar- 

44 Gat, "What Constituted the Military Revolution of the Early Modern Period?", pp. 36-38; 
Lynn, "Revisiting the Great Fact of War and Bourbon Absolutism"; Frost, The Northern Wars, 
p. 115. 

45 Wilson, "Warfare in the Old Regime", table 3:1, p. 80. 

46 Wilson, "Social Militarization in Eighteenth Century Germany", pp. 38-39; Scott, "The 
Fiscal-Military State and International Rivalry during the Long Eighteenth Century", pp. 47-48. 

47 Statutes of the Realm, 11 vols (London, 1810-1828), III, pp. 124-126; Tallett, War and Society in 
Early-Modern Europe, pp. 94-95. 



termaster, musicians, three kinds of pikemen, halberdiers, and three sorts 
of arquebusiers, all of whom received different levels of pay with the result 
that in this small unit there were fourteen distinct pay grades. 48 Specialist 
troops received higher rewards than their locally recruited counterparts, 
partly in recognition of their superior fighting skills. Landsknecht pay in 
sixteenth-century French royal armies was about 20 per cent higher than 
that of the native infantry, and the German units also received additional 
bonus payments. Swiss pikemen in French employ received an extra month's 
wages in the event of battle, and survivors insisted upon receiving the pay 
of casualties. 49 

To be sure, higher pay rates did not simply reflect the state of the labour 
market and the specialist skills on offer. Thus, the heavy cavalry through- 
out our period tended to be especially well rewarded. During the Wars 
of Religion, their officers were paid twice as much as analogous ranks 
in the infantry; and even the lowest-paid mounted archer, at 17 Livres per 
month, had a salary higher than most rank-and-file infantry. This certainly 
reflected their perceived usefulness on the battlefield, but higher wages 
were also meant to cover the initial investment in horses and equipment 
that was required of the mounted soldier. The cost of outfitting a mounted 
archer was in the region of 400 Livres; and a minimum of 600-700 Livres was 
required for an homme d'armes who needed three horses and a significantly 
greater amount of armour. This was ten or fifteen times the cost of equip- 
ping a heavily armoured pikeman. Higher wages were also paid to cover the 
cost of feeding and replacing the horses while on campaign (given their high 
mortality levels, the latter represented a significant expense). 50 Finally, and 
most importantly, higher pay rates in the cavalry were due in large measure 
to the superior social status of the members of this branch of the army. 

It was probably in the artillery regiments - units that proved least 
attractive to the nobility and where there were the clearest functional 
divisions - that the laws of the labour market can be seen to have operated 

48 Wood, The King's Army, pp. 88-89. 

49 Potter, Renaissance France at War, pp. 129-130, 137. Being hired by the regiment made contract 
troops more expensive, since the employer had to fund an extra layer of regimental officers: 
Wood, The King's Army, p. 137. 

50 Wood, The King's Army, pp. 135-136; Robinson, "Horse Supply and the Development of the 
New Model Army", p. 122 and passim. It cost around £12 to mount and equip a cavalryman 
in England in the 1640s, compared to an infantryman's pay of 8d per day. See British Library, 
Thomason Tracts, £300(5) Ordinance...for the Raising of Five Hundred Horse; Asquith, The New 
Model Army, p. 19. Note the comments of Maurice de Saxe, Mes reveries (1732), in Phillips, Roots 
of Strategy, pp. 119-120, 137. 



in their purest form. A French memoir from 1568 estimated that 2,620 people 
would be needed to service the artillery train of the royal army, including 
clerks, gunners, pioneers, pontoon specialists, tenters, drivers, and others. 
The highest paid was the grand master, at 500 Livres per month; the lowest 
were the humble labourers or pioneers. As James Wood has indicated, the 
wages paid to the personnel of the artillery train, and the functions they 
performed, correlated very closely to an industrial enterprise. Thus there 
was a clear labour hierarchy, with those exercising managerial/supervisory 
roles receiving the most pay, followed by the skilled elements (roughly 22 
per cent of the total force), then the unskilled workers who comprised some 
75 per cent of the workforce. All the skilled workers, beginning with the 
gunners at 10 Livres per month, received higher wage rates than the average 
pikeman or arquebusiers at 8-9 Livres per month, and their pay compared 
favourably with that of the mounted archers who, when expenses were 
taken into account, may have cleared only 8.7 Livres in monthly salary. 51 

Like their counterparts in civilian society, soldiers were not averse to us- 
ing their "industrial muscle" to wring higher rewards out of their employers. 
This was especially the case with groups such as the Swiss pikemen and 
the Landsknechte, both of whom had a strong sense of communal solidarity 
reinforced by well-developed, autonomous internal structures that made 
them, in some respects, akin to guilds or trade unions. The Landsknechte, 
for instance, formed self-governing units in which the common soldiers, 
comprising the gemeente or community, elected their own officers (the 
voerder, gemeene weyfel, and fourier), administered justice, and agreed their 
terms and conditions of employment. 52 They used their corporate solidarity 
to drive up pay rates and to impose what now might be termed restrictive 
practices. Thus the Swiss in 1522 informed their immediate employer, the 
due de Montmorency, that they would not assault fortified towns because 
this was simply "not their trade". 53 Just as the autonomy and restrictive 
practices of the guilds offended the Lumieres of later Enlightenment dec- 
ades, so these same characteristics of the Landsknechte offended their 
employers even though their military skills made them indispensable. In 
the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the remedy in both instances 
appeared similar: to reduce the autonomy and self-governance of guilds and 
Landsknechte. In the case of the former this meant exposing them to the 

51 Wood, The King's Army, pp. 161-168. 

52 Baumann, Landsknechte; Burschel, Soldner in Nordwestdeutschland des 76. undij.Jahrhun- 

53 Du Bellay and du Bellay, Memoires, IV, p. 189. 



rigour of the free market, and in the case of the latter it involved an attack 
on their internal structures of governance. 

There are undoubtedly parallels to be drawn between soldiers and wage- 
labourers in civilian society. Yet we should not take these too far. One 
difference was the irregularity of soldiers' pay. To be sure, wage-labourers 
in civilian society were commonly laid off: as the need for farm labour was 
reduced in the winter months or as cyclical slumps hit manufacturing in- 
dustries. Soldiers too were frequently dismissed at the end of the campaign 
season as the winter months approached. What was distinctive about the 
soldier's situation was the extent to which he frequently received little or 
no pay even while he was employed. This resulted in the accumulation of 
arrears which could be substantial. By February 1568 a third of the heavy 
cavalry companies in the French royal army had received no pay since the 
first quarter of the previous year; and the wages of the rest of the army were 
more than six months in arrears. During the campaign around Landrecies 
in 1542, the English commander Wallop, then in imperial service, reported 
of his men that they were "veray poore and few or none of theym have 
any greate store of money, victualz be dere, clothes wax thyn, and cold 
weather encreseath". Similarly, the veteran Sir James Turner, who fought 
in Ireland for a Scots contingent during the Wars of the Three Kingdoms 
(as the English Civil Wars are now more adequately referred to) recorded 
that the army "fingered no pay the whole time I stayd in Ireland, except 
for three months". 54 

One response of soldiers to low or no pay was to mutiny, and in some 
respects this withdrawal of labour may be regarded as the equivalent of 
the strike in the civilian labour market. Mutinies were most common and 
sophisticated in the Spanish Army of Flanders, though they were by no 
means restricted to these forces. Forty-five major munities were staged (and 
there was a good deal of ritualized drama in their conduct) between 1572 
and 1607, with some lasting more than a year. Mutineers elected leaders or 
"management committees", negotiated with the government, and sustained 
themselves by levying local taxes. 55 However, a second response of soldiers 
to low or no pay was unique and simply not available to civilian workers. 
Without the wages that were supposed to buy essential supplies, the soldiers 

54 Wood, The King's Army, p. 275; Brewer, Gairdner, and Brodie, Letters and Papers, Foreign 
and Domestic, of the Reign of Henry VIII, XVIII, ii, p. 267; Turner, Memoirs of His Own Life and 
Times, p. 24. 

55 Parker, The Army of Flanders and the Spanish Road, pp. 185-206, "Mutiny and Discontent in 
the Spanish Army of Flanders"; Wymans, "Les mutineries militaires de 1596 a 1606". 



resorted to pillaging the local population, taking whatever they needed 
by force. Thus, Thomas Stockdale complained of the atrocities commit- 
ted by soldiers based in Yorkshire during the 1640s, admitting that if only 
the troops had been paid "the sufferance and wrong would be unto many 
less sensible". 56 This easy, almost casual resort to violence, often involving 
extreme levels of brutality, can be explained in a number of ways. Robert 
Muchembled notes the constant and systematic pattern of conflict between 
troops and members of the rural community. 57 Such poor relations in part 
reflected the long-standing urban/rural hostility that was a pronounced 
feature of early modern society; and troops recruited largely from the towns 
had little regard for inhabitants of the countryside whom they regarded as 
backward, stupid, and easy prey. 58 

However, we should probably look beyond town/country relations to 
the huge cultural gulf that separated soldiers from all civilians. As Wood 
notes, "The soldiery were an instrument of barely controlled violence and 
destructiveness and their vocation and values were based upon completely 
different assumptions about rules of law, property rights, and the appli- 
cation of force and coercion that in any other context would be clearly 
criminal behaviour." 59 Levels of violence were especially high whenever 
there was a heightened sense of the "Other" between soldiers and civilians 
brought about, for example, by pronounced ethnic, religious, or cultural 
differences. 60 Foreign troops in particular saw themselves as set apart from 
the native civilian population. The notorious "Day of the Landsknechte" at 
Caen in 1513 when soldiers ransacked the town after having not been paid 
for months, the sack of Rome by Charles V's unpaid German troops in 1527, 
and the "Spanish Fury" at Antwerp in 1576 were merely the best known of 
a long catalogue of outrages by non-native troops. 61 Similarly, the appalling 
treatment of Irish civilians in the 1640s by English soldiers was grounded 
in the widely held belief that Irish Catholics were "backward" with respect 
to religion and culture. Barnaby Rich described them as "more uncivil, 
more uncleanly, more barbarous and more brutish in their customs and 
demeanours than any other people in the known world". 62 Moreover, it 

56 Johnson, The Fairfax Correspondence, I, p. 203. 

57 Muchembled, La violence au village, esp. pp. 107-118. 

58 Hale, War and Society in Renaissance Europe, pp. 190-191. 

59 Wood, The King's Army, p. 236. 

60 Hale, "On the Concept of the 'Other' and the 'Enemy'". 

61 De Bourdeille de Brantome, Oeuvres completes, VI, pp. 220-227; Tracy, Emperor Charles V, 
Impresario of War, pp. 32-36; Parker, The Dutch Revolt, p. 178. 

62 Rich, A Short Survey of Ireland, p. 2. 



made little difference when soldiers were meant to be allies of the civilian 
population. This can be exemplified by the behaviour of poorly paid Scots 
forces in England during the first Civil War, who committed numerous 
atrocities in their search for supplies, even though they were meant to be 
billeted upon a friendly population. 63 

The irregularity of their pay and their ready resort to violence when 
unpaid were not the only things that distinguished soldiers from civilian 
wage-labourers. Being paid a wage was not necessarily the main or even sole 
reason for fighting. All soldiers anticipated an economic reward, but this 
might equally come from ransom or from booty as from pay, certainly before 
c. 1650. "Do you think we are in the King's service for the four ducats a month 
we earn?", Henry VIII's Spanish captains serving at Boulogne rhetorically 
asked their general. "Not so my lord: on the contrary, we serve with the 
hope of taking prisoners and getting their ransom." 64 Others expected to 
make a profit by picking over the dead and wounded on the battlefield 
and from the sack of a town after it had been taken by assault. The laws 
of war permitted the soldiers three days of unrestricted plunder of a town 
that had been stormed after it had unreasonably refused to surrender. 
This was justified partly on the grounds that it would otherwise have been 
impossible to bring the soldiers to the point where they were prepared to 
undertake the hazardous operation of storming a breach. Outside these 
instances, monetary reward might come through routine pillaging of 
peasants and others. Thus a sixteenth-century woodcut by Erhard Schon 
shows a Landsknecht and his female companion with poems accompanying 
the two characters. The Landsknecht, a former cobbler, explains that he 
will abandon shoemaking for soldiering to gain what he can, since being a 
cobbler rewards him little, though "in many wars I have won/Great wealth 
and manifold honors/Who then knows whom fortune favors?" She replies 
that, "Perhaps so much maybe my winning [from pillage] /Much more than 
ever I could whilst spinning." 65 We should not be surprised by soldiers' 
expectation of reward by means of ransom and pillage, for the spoils of 
war figured prominently as a form of legitimate compensation in the late 
Middle Ages, and a long tradition of legal plunder preceded early modern 

63 British Library, Thomason Tracts, £365(9), A Remonstrance Concerning the Misdemeanours 
of some of the Scots Souldiers in the County ofYorke, 1646. On patterns of soldier/civilian violence, 
see Tallett, "Soldats et actes de violence a l'encontre des civils dans les lies britanniques". 

64 Hume, Chronicle of King Henry VIII...Written in Spanish by an unknown hand. 

65 Lynn, Women, Armies, and Warfare in Early Modern Europe, pp. 16-17. 



military practice. The taking of spoils was a defining characteristic of just, 
or public, war. 66 

Cash-strapped governments, unable to pay the soldiers in full or some- 
times at all, had little choice but to accept the routine nature of pillage. The 
Mercure frangois put it bluntly: "One finds enough soldiers when one gives 
them the freedom to live off the land, and allowing them to pillage supports 
them without pay." 67 Indeed, sometimes the situation could be turned to 
one's advantage. The system of regulated plunder that came to a peak in 
the Thirty Years War sought, not altogether successfully, to allow armies 
to live off the population by taking regular Kontributions. Although heavy, 
Kontributions were meant to preserve the productive capacity of the terri- 
tory while tapping it for the army's benefit. 68 At other times, giving soldiers 
free rein to pillage was a deliberate act of strategy, designed to hamper 
the movements of the enemy forces and bring about their disintegration. 
Integral to pillaging before c. 1650 was the presence with the army of non- 
combatants, including women, who foraged, plundered, managed the "take", 
and exchanged goods for money or food with the sutlers and "fences". The 
significance of all this from our point of view is that soldiers were not so 
much being paid to fight but rather being given "a de facto licence to pillage 
in order to support themselves, often with the aid of their comrades and 
female partners", and in these circumstances the soldier should be regarded 
less as a wage-earner and more as "a kind of sub-contractor, empowered to 
support himself by a form of petty entrepreneurship in a family economy 
based upon pillage". 69 

The relationship of general contractors and noble officers to their "em- 
ployers" was equally ambiguous. As I have already noted, for the employer 
the attraction of using a general contractor was that in return for only a 
modest "up-front" payment, the contractor and his network of subcontract- 
ing colonels and captains, financiers, and munitionnaires, were prepared to 
subsidize initial recruitment costs, and then cover the expense of paying, 
equipping, and supplying the troops until well into the campaign. The 
contractor and his network of associates were thus not so much employees 
of the state as its creditors. True, the use of general contractors was phased 
out after the end of the Thirty Years War. But, as we have seen, govern- 
ments turned increasingly to their nobilities, who were expected to use 

66 Keen, The Laws ofWar in the Late Middle Ages. 

67 Quoted in Tilly, The Contentious French, p. 123. 

68 See Tallett, War and Society in Early-Modern Europe, pp. 55-56, for a summary. 

69 Lynn, "Comments on Mercenary Military Service in Early Modern Europe", p. 7. 



their personal resources to help with the recruitment, pay, and supply of 
their unit. As Redlich has observed, regiments ceased to be the large-scale 
business enterprises of Wallenstein's day, but they nevertheless represented 
an investment from which the colonel/captain might hope to recover his 
capital and, with any luck, generate a profit. 70 Whether nobles did always 
make a profit is open to doubt: as Herve Drevillon has shown in the case 
of France, they acquired honour as a result of military service, but little 
monetary gain. 71 Nevertheless, the fact remains that they were prepared 
to subsidize the crown, and in this respect they too were as much creditors 
as employees of the state. 

There are, then, real difficulties in seeing the soldier, certainly in the 
sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, as a wage-labourer who fought merely 
for pay. However, the situation did become clearer by the eighteenth century. 
As any number of examples testify, the failure to pay and supply troops and 
the tacit approval of ransom and pillage as substitutes for regular wages 
resulted in mutiny, indiscipline, disorder, or desertion. Any one of these 
could cause the collapse of the army as a fighting force and bring a campaign 
to a juddering halt. As the experienced contractor Count Rhingrave, presci- 
ently warned, "The soldier cannot live on air [...] where there is hunger 
and necessity, there will arise disorder." 72 A seventeenth-century observer 
similarly noted that "The greatest weakening of an army is disorder. The 
greatest cause of disorder is want of pay." 73 The due d'Estampes warned 
that if he could not provide for his men they would either desert or join the 
enemy "because such men follow the escu". 74 Accordingly, from the mid- 
seventeenth century, governments began, albeit falteringly, to put in place 
a series of linked initiatives aimed at producing military forces that were 
more tightly controlled by the prince and better supported by the state. The 
objective behind these initiatives was to improve military efficiency and 
to turn armies into more effective instruments of state power. As Michel le 
Tellier succinctly noted, "To secure the livelihood of the soldier is to secure 
victory for the king." 75 

70 Redlich, The German Military Enterpriser and His Workforce, II, pp. 55-62. 

71 Drevillon, L'impdtdu sang. His archival sources probably lead him to understate the costs 

72 Lublinskaya, Documents pour server a Thistoire des guerres civiles en France, p. 246. 

73 British Library, Thomason Tracts, En6(36) Observations Concerning Princes and States upon 
Peace and Warre, 1642. 

74 Lublinskaya, Documents pour server a I'histoire des guerres civiles en France, p. 97. See also 
Donagan, War in England, 7643-49, pp. 264-267. 

75 Quoted in Andre, Michel le Tellier et Torganisation de I'armee monarchique, p. 64. 



First, governments sought to pay their soldiers regularly even if not 
always in full. The Dutch in many respects led the way, and were generally 
regarded as the best - in the sense of most reliable - payers in the late 
seventeenth century. Not only did the States have access to liquid funds, 
drawn from taxes levied upon the Republic's thriving commercial trade, 
but they made use of the innovation of solliciteurs-militair, businessmen 
who, in return for an agreed monthly sum, were prepared to advance 
money to a captain and his company, thus ensuring the men their pay. A 
formalization of the system gave the solliciteurs-militair a monopoly on 
paying the troops in return for an agreed interest rate of 6.95 per cent on 
all the funds they advanced. 76 The Dutch system of payment to some extent 
prefigured what would happen elsewhere. During the War of the Austrian 
Succession (1741-1749), for example, pay advances to the troops in the two 
French armies operating in Germany, the armee de Baviere and the armee 
de Westphalie, were handled increasingly by a body of specialist financiers 
such as Mauvillain. 77 If soldiers were paid more routinely, governments 
nonetheless took action to ensure that there was no scope for bargaining 
over levels of pay and conditions of service. Thus the Landsknecht regiments 
were reorganized into companies; their elected officers were abolished; 
pay was tied to musters; and troops lost the right to represent themselves. 
In a similar way, employers sought means to restrict the autonomy of the 
Swiss pikemen. 78 

Secondly, paying the soldiers allowed the enforcement of harsher dis- 
cipline. As Everhard van Reyd stated bluntly, "One could not hang those 
[soldiers] one did not pay", a judgement confirmed by General George 
Monck who concluded that "if [the men] are punctually paid [...] then your 
general can with justice punish them severely". 79 By the mid-seventeenth 
century, most of the rules and conventions governing the conduct of war- 
fare were already in place. 80 As far as the ordinary soldier was concerned, 
these were embodied in the articles of war issued by commanders at the 

76 Van Nimwegen, "The Transformation of Army Organisation", pp. 170-171, 174-175. On the 
collapse of Dutch finances after 1715, see Scott, "The Fiscal-Military State and International 
Rivalry during the Long Eighteenth Century", pp. 34-36. 

77 Felix, "Victualling Louis XV's Armies", p. 10. 

78 Van Nimwegen, "The Transformation of Army Organisation", p. 168. 

79 E. Van Reyd, Histoire der Nederlantscher Oorlogen (Leuwarden, 1650), p. 324, quoted in 
Nickle, The Military Reforms of Prince Maurice of Orange, pp. 90-91; Monck quoted in Lloyd, A 
Review of the History of Infantry, p. 182. See also the comments of Maurice de Saxe, Mes reveries, 
in Phillips, Roots of Strategy, p. 106. 

80 Parker, "Early Modern Europe", p. 41. 



start of each campaign. The articles would not be altered in substance, 
though they were greatly expanded in detail, but from the second half of 
the seventeenth century they began to be enforced with a new rigour. 81 In 
particular, those sections that forbade looting, theft, and mistreatment of 
civilians were implemented in an attempt to cut out or at least restrain 
unlicensed pillaging. Marshal Claude Villars's use of "the very greatest sever- 
ity" against breaches of discipline with respect to pillaging was typical. 82 
All eighteenth-century armies thus had their equivalent of the French 
prevots de marechaux charged with keeping order in the camp and on the 
march, and military courts were held on a more routine basis than they 
had been earlier. 

Apart from restricting pillage, the enforcement of more rigorous disci- 
pline had the extra benefit from the commander's point of view that raw 
recruits could be made to march, drill, and practise battlefield manoeuvres. 
Additionally, troops could now be obliged to perform duties such as digging 
trenches and latrines, carrying their own baggage, and preparing earthwork 
fortifications. These were duties that their predecessors had frequently 
jibbed at and devolved onto the numerous women and other camp followers, 
or onto civilians haplessly pressed into service. 83 As Wood has noted, these 
privileges were analogous to those of master-craftsmen, and their existence 
had meant that troops in the first half of our period had "operated more like 
skilled and somewhat independent contract workers, and the whole army as 
a cross between a warrior society and a specialized labor force". 84 Although 
it is important not to exaggerate the contrasts with an earlier epoch and 
to acknowledge national differences of practice, by the eighteenth century 
soldiers were increasingly cowed and obedient products of harsh discipline, 
epitomized at the extreme by the robotic Prussian forces, very different 
from the swaggering freebooters of two centuries earlier. 85 

As well as restricting opportunities for pillage, governments also denied 
soldiers the possibility of profit by taking over responsibility for ransom- 
ing prisoners. Henry VIII's Spanish captains had no counterpart in the 

81 Navereau, Le logement et tes ustensiles des gens de guerres ; Tallett, War and Society in Early- 
Modern Europe, pp. 123-126. 

82 Villars, Memoires du Marechal de Villars, II, p. 230. 

83 McNeill, The Pursuit of Power, pp. 117-143. See plate 6 and accompanying inscription of 
Callot's "Les la Guerre" (1633), depicting villagers being led away probably to act as 
labourers: Daniel, Callot's Etchings, item 271. 

84 Wood, The King's Army, p. 304. 

85 Kunisch, Furst-Gesellschaft-Krieg, pp. 178-182; and the comments of Frederick the Great on 
"Prussian Troops" in Military Instructions. 



eighteenth century as governments asserted that prisoners became the 
property of the state which would handle negotiations for their release and 
take the proceeds of any ransom. Soldiers thus lost out financially on two 
fronts. More positively, however, governments did begin to take greater care 
of the welfare of their soldiers, arranging to supply them directly with food, 
equipment, tobacco, clothing, and housing, things that the soldier had previ- 
ously been expected to purchase out of his pay. Again, the motivation was 
not altruistic but pragmatic: governments recognized that poorly supplied 
troops did not win wars. The Spanish Army of Flanders had led the way in 
this regard in the sixteenth century, but by the 1700s it was becoming com- 
monplace for governments to put in place arrangements with large-scale 
civilian contractors for the supply of goods to the army. 86 One unlooked-for 
consequence of the direct supply of clothing to the troops was that there was 
greater standardization of dress, leading to the development of uniforms 
with all that this implied in terms of making men more amenable to drill 
and discipline. 87 

To be sure, we should not exaggerate either the extent of these changes or 
the abruptness of the breach with the past. Change was gradual rather than 
revolutionary. The mechanisms of state administration were creaky and 
frequently broke down, leaving the soldier unpaid, unfed, and poorly clothed. 
Despite the harsh enforcement of discipline, desertion and disorder remained 
common features of armies, and civilians still suffered at their hands. The 
number of mutinies certainly diminished after c. 1650, but they still continued 
to take place and might have serious repercussions, as John Prebble's study of 
Highland troops in British service demonstrates. 88 Nonetheless, there were 
significant developments taking place, and the eighteenth-century soldier 
may be seen as more dependent than his sixteenth- and seventeenth-century 
predecessors on his wage and goods-in-kind provided by his employer, unable 
to bargain about pay and terms of employment, increasingly hemmed about 
by regulation, and part of a military machine in which standardization and 
uniformity was becoming the norm. 

86 Felix, "Victualling Louis XV's Armies". See also Cote, Joseph-Michel Cadet, for the supply of 
troops overseas. 

87 Labourers in the sixteenth-century French royal army had been given uniforms to make 
desertion harder: Wood, The King's Army, p. 166. 

88 Prebble, Mutiny. 



Social and cultural restraints on soldiering; duration of service 

Some of the social and cultural factors that influenced recruitment - the 
identification of the nobility with military service and the ability of the 
better-off to avoid impressment and militia service - have already been al- 
luded to, but it is appropriate at this point to look at two other socio-cultural 
aspects of fighting for a living, and also to ask how long the soldier might 
expect to serve. It should be noted at the outset that the labour market 
for soldiers was an international one throughout the period. Foreigners 
constituted a significant and sometimes the majority element within 
armies. For instance, around 70 per cent of Francis I's forces in 1542 were 
non-native, though the record probably goes to Sweden: only 12 per cent 
of its forces in 1632 were native. 89 Such examples may not represent the 
norm, but it nonetheless remained common for a ruler to have half his 
forces made up of foreigners. One reason for this high percentage figure in 
the sixteenth century was the need to employ specialist troops whose re- 
cruitment had a regional basis: Genoese crossbowmen, Albanian stradiots, 
German Reiter able to perform the complex manoeuvres associated with 
the caracole, Bohemian users of the Wagenburg, Savoyard light cavalry, and 
Swiss pikemen. Thus, in France a memoir prepared for Catherine de Medici, 
the queen mother, at the start of the first civil war in 1562, envisaged using 
foreign contract troops to provide 53.8 per cent of the crown's infantry 
forces (10.8 per cent Swiss, 27 per cent German, 8 per cent Italian, and 8 per 
cent Spanish) and 48.6 per cent of the cavalry (21 per cent Flemish, 25.6 per 
cent German, 2 per cent Savoyard). 90 The development of general military 
contracting further eroded the distinction between native and non-native 
troops. The enterprisers' polyglot forces came from every nationality. As 
Parrott observes, high-quality soldiers were important; origins were not. 91 
A shift in the methods of recruitment after c. 1650, with an increased em- 
phasis on impressment, militia, and recruiting by commissioned captains, 
reasserted the importance of national origins, since the captains were often 
subjects of the prince whom they served. Nevertheless, foreigners continued 
to represent a substantial proportion of the state's forces, ranging from 14 
to 60 per cent in the armies of Britain, France, Spain, and Prussia, though 
in the case of the latter many so-called foreigners were actually recruited 

89 Potter, A History of France, 7460-7560, p. 261; Nordmann, "L'armee suedoise auXVIIe siecle", 
p. 136. 

90 Wood, The King's Army, derived from table 2.8, p. 56. 

91 Parrott, "From Military Enterprise to Standing Armies", p. 82. 



from Hohenzollern lands. 92 The pattern evidenced by the larger states 
held good for many smaller ones too. Thus in 1734 Piedmont fielded 14,000 
foreigners and 26,000 native troops, the non-native contingent compris- 
ing some 35 per cent of the total. 93 In the context of increased army size, 
non-national recruitment remained a resource that was too important 
to ignore. One incidental consequence of the international nature of the 
labour market for soldiers was the high levels of migration, particularly 
from fertile recruiting grounds such as sixteenth-century Italy and Ireland 
throughout the period. 94 

If national origins presented little bar to army service, what about gender? 
This may seem a curious question to pose, given that combatant soldiers 
were male. But what John Lynn has called the "campaign community" com- 
prised a large number of civilians - craftsmen, lackeys, tradesmen, sutlers, 
carters, and pawnbrokers, for example. The army's "tail" included numerous 
women, though they did not figure on any muster lists. 95 Their presence in 
armies was essential. They formed part of the libertine lifestyle that induced 
men to sign on; and they were integral to the maintenance and operation 
of armies. They were irreplaceable for the performance of gender-based 
duties: laundering, sewing, nursing, prostitution. They were also expected 
in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries to assist with siege work, digging 
latrines, foraging, and pillaging. As governments acted to reduce pillage 
and as the state's capacity to pay and supply armies grew in the eighteenth 
century, so women's role in securing food supplies declined. Governments, 
which had always regarded women in armies as potentially troublesome 
and as extra mouths to feed, now acted to restrict their numbers. Fewer 
women than previously marched with the armies, and as numbers of women 
diminished so too did the soldier's freewheeling libertine lifestyle. 

What of the length and terms of service? Sixteenth-century contract troops 
were the most privileged in these respects. Their period of service was defined 
by the Bestallung and was usually limited to fighting a particular campaign. 
The contract also set out the conditions of service. Thus, 5,000 German troops 
contracted for service in Friuli refused orders from their Venetian employers 

92 Thomson, Mercenaries, Pirates and Sovereigns, p. 29 table 2.1, pp. 26-32; Fann, "Foreigners 
in the Prussian Army"; Duffy, The Army of Maria Theresa, p. 55. 

93 Loriga, Soldats - Un laboratoire disciplinaire, pp. 36-37, and tables 1/1 and 1/3, pp. 237-239. 

94 Dubost, La France italienne au XVIe etXVIIe siecles, esp. pp. 60-65; Arfaioli, The Black 
Bands of Giovanni; Henry, "Wild Geese in Spanish Flanders", p. 193; Genet Rouff lac and Murphy, 
Franco-Irish Military Connections, isgo-rg45. 

95 Lynn, Women, Armies, and Warfare in Early Modern Europe; Wilson, "German Women and 
War, 1500-1800". 



redirecting them to the fleet because their original contract had ruled out 
their use at sea. 96 Additionally, they were in theory free to choose their em- 
ployer, though in practice this choice might be restricted, since governments 
in the sixteenth century felt it worthwhile paying retainers to contractors to 
ensure first call on their services in the event of hostilities. 97 The hard-won 
victory of Francis I against the Swiss at Marignano (September 1515) ironically 
encouraged the French to make permanent treaties with the Swiss cantons to 
ensure a monopoly over their outstanding pikemen. 98 Moreover, the leaders of 
contract forces sometimes received grants of land and titles that made it hard 
for them to switch sides; they were reluctant to change during a campaign 
lest they lose arrears of pay and taxes from their current employer; and they 
had to consider geographical proximity and political relationships with a 
prospective employer before signing any contract. 

Unlike sixteenth-century contract troops, volunteers who signed on with 
a captain made an open-ended agreement, to serve until disbandment at the 
end of the campaign or the war, whenever that might be. In practice, troops 
were frequently laid off in the autumn, especially in the first half of our 
period. Impressed men had no choice with regard to the length and terms 
of employment, and there was a trend in the eighteenth century, especially 
in some German states, to extend the period of service dramatically. For 
example, service in the Prussian army for those who had been forcibly 
drafted was theoretically for an unlimited period, though it was restricted 
to twenty years in 1792. In practice, however, many recruits were discharged 
early, and most received long periods of furlough allowing them to return 
home at harvest time. 99 The extension of periods of service went alongside 
a trend towards retaining a body of men throughout the year, leading to the 
establishment of permanent forces. True, this was not a novelty. Standing 
armies had emerged in many polities during the fifteenth century, and 
rulers additionally endeavoured to secure the ongoing availability of forces 
(not quite the same thing) by paying retainers to military contractors and 
through treaties with the Swiss cantons, as I have noted. But from the late 
seventeenth century onwards, the number of soldiers retained by the state 
throughout the year grew quite significantly. 100 The need for peacetime 
forces grew with the decline of traditional and general contracting which 

96 Mallett and Hale, The Military Organization of a Renaissance State, p. 319. 

97 See ibid., pp. 322-323; Parker, The Army of Flanders and the Spanish Road, p. 39, for examples. 

98 Potter, A History of France, 7460-7560, pp. 264-265. 

99 Wilson, "Social Militarization in Eighteenth Century Germany", pp. 5, 16. 

100 Tallett and Trim, '"Then Was Then and Now is Now'", p. 22, and Gunn, "War and the Emer- 
gence of the State", pp. 54-58. 



made it harder to hire an army "off the shelf". A permanently retained body 
of forces, especially if they were veterans, provided the core around which 
the army could be expanded rapidly in wartime. 

Once enrolled in the army, all soldiers were forbidden to desert, and 
only sixteenth-century contract troops had the opportunity (at least in 
theory) of changing sides during a war should the current employer not 
fulfil his side of the agreement. Desertion and enlisting with the enemy 
were offences that figured in all military codes of conduct. As with much 
else to do with army life, there were efforts from c. 1650 onwards to enforce 
these twin aspects of the disciplinary codes in an attempt to enhance the 
fighting efficiency of armies. 

Aggregate contract to state commission armies? 

Our review of early modern soldiers suggests that the broad outlines con- 
cerning the evolution of army style advanced by John Lynn in 1996 hold 
good. 101 The aggregate contract army (1450-1650) was indeed pieced together 
by a variety of voluntary and involuntary methods, as well as through a 
quasi-feudal procedure that was a mixture of the two. The second half of our 
period (1650-1790) witnessed the development of the state commission army, 
a military force that was both better supported by the state and more tightly 
controlled by the prince. Regulation, discipline, and uniformity increasingly 
became the order of the day, and there was a growing move towards the 
direct state supply of goods that the soldier had previously been expected 
to provide himself, albeit this was generally conducted through the employ- 
ment of private financiers and merchants. Numbers of soldiers increased, 
and the period witnessed the development of an existing trend towards 
the maintenance of standing forces. The Spanish Army of Flanders and the 
Swedes had been the paradigm forces in the period 1500-1650. After that 
point, two competing models emerged: the Dutch, who used subsidy forces, 
and the French army under Louis XIV, the latter being displaced by the Prus- 
sians, who became the paradigm for Europeans from the mid-eighteenth 
century until their defeats during the Wars of the French Revolution and 
debacle in 1806. However, if the broad outlines of Lynn's thesis remain intact, 
some amendments are called for, as he has acknowledged. 

It is important to stress the continuing importance of both entrepreneur- 
ship and the nobility in recruiting and supporting armies throughout the 

101 Lynn, "The Evolution of Army Style in the Modern West". 



period and not just between 1500 and 1650. Traditional contracting as well 
as general contracting did go into steep decline after the mid-seventeenth 
century. Yet the commercialization of warfare continued in two important 
respects. First, the role of the nobility, who had always been integral to the 
raising of forces, was developed in novel ways. Monarchs continued to play 
upon the longstanding twinning of military service and noble status to 
persuade their elites both to join the army and to bring men with them. As 
we have seen, in some armies, most notably that of France, the introduction 
of a system of venality further encouraged them to use their private wealth 
and influence to recruit and support troops in the hope of a profit in the 
long term. Elsewhere, the hope of profit from the management of a company 
similarly persuaded them to put their money and prestige at the service of 
the monarch. The regiment was undoubtedly under greater state control in 
the eighteenth century, but entrepreneurship endured. We should not be 
surprised by this continued use of the nobility, for much recent scholarship 
has stressed the extent to which rulers, even in supposedly "absolute" states, 
relied upon negotiation and compromise with the social and financial 
elites - whether these comprised the traditional nobility, members of the 
court, provincial worthies, administrative and legal personnel, merchants, 
or others - to conduct business. This was especially the case with respect 
to the creation and maintenance of an army, a body of a size and cost 
unmatched by any other institution in the state. As David Parrott has 
noted, "The creation or transformation of an army is not some act of will 
imposed by the ruler upon a passive body of subjects. Armies and military 
institutions represent the relationship between rulers and political elites." 102 
The commercialization of warfare endured in a second way. A number of 
mainly German polities, but also Savoy and Sweden for brief periods, began 
to lease their forces to larger, and richer, states in return for the payment 
of subsidies. The hire of soldiers for monetary gain to the highest bidder, 
with little regard for the welfare of the men involved, has led to it being 
described slightingly as Soldatenhandel (soldier-trade); and the ruler of 
Hesse-Cassel in particular has been vilified for apparently bemoaning the 
fact that "only" 1,465 of his subjects were killed at the battle of Trenton when 
the British paid a premium for those killed in action rather than for those 
wounded or captured. 103 Of course, we should not exaggerate the commercial 
aspect of this soldier-trade. As Peter Wilson has demonstrated, much more 

102 Parrott, "From Military Enterprise to Standing Armies", p. 77. 

103 Ingrao, The Hessian Mercenary State, p. 1; Wilson, War, State and Society in Wurttemberg, 
pp. 74-77, reviews the literature. 



than money was involved, the princes who hired out their subjects being 
concerned at least as much with the political, dynastic, and diplomatic 
returns to be gained. Indeed, the purely cash profits were frequently quite 
small or non-existent, most of the subsidy being eaten up by the costs of 
recruitment. Among the fortunate few to turn a monetary profit were 
Hanover and the much smaller Ansbach-Bayreuth in 1797. Hesse-Cassel too 
stood out by virtue of its exceptionality in making large profits from the 
soldier-trade. Moreover, German states were discriminating when choosing 
subsidy partners, not always going for the highest bidder; and contracts 
generally contained clauses protecting the rights of the soldiers by, for 
instance, insisting that they be kept together as a unit and operate under 
the command of their own officers. Nevertheless, even when these caveats 
are taken into account, there remained an important commercial aspect 
to this Kriegshandwerk, or "warcraft". 104 

The Soldatenhandel poses a more significant difficulty for Lynn's tax- 
onomy of army style, which needs to be adjusted accordingly, as he has 
proposed. 105 This is because these hired regiments exhibited characteristics 
both of mercenary forces and of conscript troops at the same time. The 
term "mercenary" in the early modern period has to be defined with care. 
Modern definitions centre upon the tripartite notions of fighting for pay, 
foreign service, and professionalism, and these have frequently and inap- 
propriately been transposed to the early modern period. 106 However, none 
of these qualities quite captures the essence of mercenary service in early 
modern Europe. First, after c. 1650 all soldiers expected to be paid, but 
that did not make them all mercenaries. Before 1650 pay was only one 
form of compensation for soldiering. Yet even if we extend the concept of 
monetary reward beyond pay to include the profits that soldiers hoped to 
make from ransoms and from pillage, this does not take us much further, 
since again all hoped to make a profit in this fashion. Secondly, the notion of 
foreign service is potentially misleading. To be sure, there is some reason to 

104 Wilson, "The German 'Soldier-Trade' of the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries", War, 
State and Society in Wurttemberg, pp. 84, 89; Ingrao, The Hessian Mercenary State, p. 127. 

105 Lynn, "Comments on Mercenary Military Service in Early Modern Europe", pp. 1-3. 

106 For a recent definition, see United Nations General Assembly, Report of the Ad Hoc Com- 
mittee on the Drafting of an International Convention against the Recruitment, Use and Training 
of Mercenaries (1982). M. Mallett stresses the concepts of fighting for profit and foreignness 
("Mercenaries", p. 209), though De Vries takes issue with this definition ("Medieval Mercenar- 
ies"). See also the comments by France in the same volume ("Introduction"). For an excellent 
overview of early modern mercenaries, see Sikora, "Soldner". The diary of Peter Hagendorf 
provides first-hand testimony into the life of a seventeenth-century mercenary: Hagendorf and 
Peters, Ein Soldnerleben im Dreifiigjahrigen Krieg. 



equate mercenaries with foreigners because many of them in the sixteenth 
century were specialists with some regional basis for their recruitment. 
The instances of the Genoese crossbowmen, Albanian stradiots, German 
Landsknechte and Reiter, Savoyard light cavalry, and Swiss pikemen have 
already been noted. 107 But all early modern armies contained large numbers 
of "foreign" troops, not all of whom were described as mercenaries and, 
conversely, there were many native recruits who volunteered to serve their 
ruler but who would be described as mercenaries. Thus, Thomas Churchyard 
referred to "mercenaries" taken by the Earl of Essex to Ireland, even though 
they were mostly men from Queen Elizabeth's domains. 108 Finally, profes- 
sionalism: this has to do with expertise, standards, and longevity in service 
and, while well-established mercenary units, such as the Landsknechte 
and Reiter for example, would be expected to display these characteristics, 
professionalism could equally be a characteristic of non-mercenary forces. 109 

These points are thrown into sharper focus if we establish what the iden- 
tifying characteristics of the early modern mercenary actually were. First 
was the notion that they were "hyred souldiers", as one sixteenth-century 
chronicler put it. 110 A second and related point was the notion of free agency. 
The mercenary was not obliged to fight, by reason of feudal obligation or 
impressment, for example. He had a choice about whether to serve. Finally, 
the mercenary had no interest in the cause but fought simply for his own 
private interest. It is the second of these three, interlocking characteristics 
that raises problems for the classification of the eighteenth-century Sol- 
datenhandel. The soldiers involved in it were hired, and they had no direct 
interest in the cause, and in these twin respects they were mercenaries, but 
many of them were not free agents since they had been forcibly recruited into 
their ruler's army, either through impressment or the militia system (or some 
variant of it). This implies the need for a new category in Lynn's taxonomy. 
He suggests a hybrid category, that of the "conscript-mercenary". 111 

Discussion of mercenaries leads to a final area in which Lynn's model 
needs to be adjusted. He points to the unreliability of the aggregate contract 

107 Though these contingents were actually not as homogeneous as is usually supposed and 
the geographical origins of "German" or "Swiss" units could be quite diverse. The Swiss were 
occasionally referred to as "Allemans", and Landsknechte could be recruited in Guelders, the 
Vaud, and Savoy: Baumann, Landsknecht; Potter, Renaissance France, p. 131. 

108 The Fortunate Farewell to the Most Forward and Noble Earl of Essex (London, 1599), inNichols, 
The Progresses and Public Progressions of Queen Elizabeth, p. 433. 

109 Trim, The Chivalric Ethos and the Development of Military Professionalism, esp. pp. 3-30. 

110 Quoted in Trim, "Fighting 'Jacob's Wars'", p. 80. 

111 Lynn, "Comments on Mercenary Military Service in Early Modern Europe", pp. 7-8. 



army largely because it "was composed in the main of mercenary bands" 
with the consequence that troops felt little loyalty to the ruler they fought 
for and were ready to turn on their employer, to pillage his subjects, and to 
mutiny. 112 But is such a judgement on mercenaries justified? Early modern 
contemporaries certainly had a low opinion of them, but this sprang from 
a distaste for men who made war a profession rather than a vocation, not 
from any criticism of their fighting abilities. 113 So long as they were paid, 
mercenaries were loyal and prepared to fight to the death if necessary. 
Thus, at the battle of Dreux (1562) the whole Landsknecht regiment fight- 
ing for the Protestants was killed or captured while there were very high 
casualties among the Swiss infantry fighting in the royal army. 114 Potter 
has concluded that in the sixteenth century mercenaries were employed 
precisely because "they were the best men available [...] and usually, they did 
their job effectively"; and Parrott reaches similar conclusions with respect 
to the forces of the general contractors of the subsequent century. 115 Thus 
the employment of mercenaries did not of itself render an army unreliable: 
quite the contrary, for they proved loyal and effective fighters. Failure to 
pay them meant they downed arms, mutinied, and turned to pillage. But, as 
I noted earlier, this was what all troops did in such circumstances, though 
mercenaries may have attracted the greatest attention and opprobrium. 
Whatever its composition, any army that went without pay and supplies 
was liable to desertion, mutiny, disorder, and pillage. 

The drivers of change 

John Lynn's taxonomy proposing a shift from an aggregate contract to a state 
commission army in the early modern period thus appears broadly correct. 
But what were the reasons for the change? Technological innovation has 
traditionally been privileged as an explanatory factor in military matters. 
However, what is notable about the period as a whole is the relative lack of 
novelty with regard to weapons systems and the slowness of their deploy- 

112 Lynn, "The Evolution of Army Style in the Modern West", p. 517. 

113 This was a significant factor for Machiavelli, who deplored "men who make war their 
only calling", even though he also had little regard for their loyalty and fighting qualities. See 
Machiavelli, Arte della Guerra: Machiavelli, The Art of War, Wood (ed.), p. 20. 

114 Wood, The King's Army, pp. 120, 199. 

115 Potter, Renaissance France at War, p. 151; Parrott, "From Military Enterprise to Standing 
Armies", pp. 83-85. See too the favourable comments on mercenaries in fifteenth-century Italy 
in Mallett, Mercenaries and Their Masters, pp. 185, 195-198, 242. 



ment. Pikes gradually gave way to hand-held firearms, and artillery came 
to have a significant place on the battlefield, but the pace of innovation 
was slow, and of itself purely technological innovation played little part in 
the transformation of army style. 

Rather than highlighting the "material technology" of conflict as a driver 
of change, we would do better to concentrate on the "social technology" 116 
of warfare, especially the role of discipline, army size, and institutional 
structures. As noted earlier, one of the features of the state commission 
army was the attempt to enforce higher standards of discipline. Contrary to 
what has been argued by proponents of the "military revolution", discipline 
was not primarily imposed as a means of ensuring that soldiers were able 
to handle their weapons and manoeuvre effectively on the battlefield, 
though these were certainly significant byproducts. 117 Rather, discipline 
was necessary to avoid the resort to pillaging, mutiny, and disorder that 
all too often paralysed armies in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. 
This was why the enforcement of discipline was only one of a package of 
measures designed to address these issues: paying soldiers more regularly; 
supplying them directly with items such as clothing, food, equipment, and 
housing; taking ransoms out of the hands of ordinary soldiers; restricting 
the number of women and "hangers-on" who travelled with the army; and 
limiting the ability of elite units to bargain over pay and conditions. 

The rationale behind all these measures was the urgent necessity of 
making armies more effective as instruments of state power. This was also 
why the number of men under arms increased, albeit not in linear fashion, 
for quantity was as important as quality. A large military establishment 
allowed states to recover from defeat, to replace a routed field army, to 
sustain the demands of attritional warfare, and to occupy and control 
territory. To be sure, it could be argued that in imposing greater central 
control of their armies, governments were seeking to save money, and it was 
true that they were mindful of the desirability of curbing the activities of 
corrupt captains who swindled their own men and the royal treasury. But a 
search for economies was not what drove the transition away from aggregate 
contract armies, since the state commission forces actually cost more than 
their predecessors. They may possibly have been "cheaper man for man"," 8 
yet overall they were much more expensive. They were more regularly paid, 
they required more state-provided goods and services, and they were far 

116 Lynn, "Clio in Arms", p. 92. 

117 Rogers, The Military Revolution Debate, is the best introduction to the debate. 

118 Lynn, "The Evolution of Army Style in the Modern West", p. 519. 



more numerous than their predecessors and consequently more costly. 
Thus, Joel Felix estimates the additional costs to the French treasury of the 
War of the Austrian Succession and the Seven Years War at a staggering 
2-2.5 billion Livres tournois. 119 Though eighteenth-century governments 
had a larger resource base on which to draw by comparison with their 
predecessors, the result of demographic growth and a burgeoning (and 
increasingly global) economy, military costs nevertheless ran well ahead of 
resources. To bridge the funding gap, eighteenth-century rulers resorted to 
a range of measures which varied from state to state, including raising levels 
of taxation, making use of loans, and expropriating resources, albeit with 
varying degrees of success. 120 It was not, then, a search for economies that 
drove the transition from aggregate contract to state commission armies, 
but rather an attempt to make armies more fit for purpose even if this meant 
at its most basic level that the army simply stayed in existence. 

We should finally recognize that what informed governments in their 
search for military efficiency was the intensely competitive relationship 
that existed between the states of western Europe that all too often spilled 
over into open conflict. The reasons for war were many and varied: dynastic 
claims, religion, trade rivalry, territorial aggrandizement, and the pursuit 
of gloire. Yet whatever the precise cause of conflict, western Europe was in 
a constant condition of tension, and sensible governments used intervals 
of peace to prepare for the next round of conflict. No wonder they were 
concerned with the war-waging capacities of their armies, for the fate of rul- 
ers and even of states might be decided by their military capacities. Portugal, 
Siena, and Scotland were absorbed by their larger neighbours as a result of 
failures in military campaigns, just as military success was crucial to the 
establishment of an independent polity in the case of the Dutch Republic. 
In 1742, France and others planned to dismember Austria, Prussia narrowly 
escaped such a fate at the commencement of the Seven Years War, Sweden's 
dearly won Baltic empire was taken from it, and in 1772 Poland suffered the 
first of the partitions that would remove it from the map until 1919. This 
intensely competitive nature of the European state system was what the 
eminent jurist Emerich Vattel had in mind when he argued for a pre-emptive 
right of self-defence by coalitions of states against over-mighty neighbours. 121 

119 Felix, "Victualling Louis XV's Armies", p. 1. 

120 Scott, "The Fiscal-Military State and International Rivalry during the Long Eighteenth 
Century", esp. pp. 34-40, 42-43. On French finances, see Felix and Tallett, "The French Experience, 
1661-1815", PP- ^SS-^Slt 160-162, 164-165. 

121 Vattel, The Law of Nations or the Principles of Natural Law, bk3 ch. 3. 



The pressures to "keep up" in military terms by imitating or adapting 
perceived best practice of paradigm armies were therefore intense. It should 
be stressed that these competitive pressures did not operate in some simple 
fashion. All states had regard to their own particular circumstances. Some 
emphasized the use of impressment and militia service over the recruitment 
of volunteers; some preferred to hire troops, others to take subsidies; some 
employed especially harsh discipline; some - and Austria would be an 
example - were notably slow and inefficient in providing for their soldiers. 
Yet the direction of travel was clear: larger armies, stricter discipline, more 
direct state supply, and greater state control. The consequences for soldier- 
labour were profound. 122 

122 It should also be stressed that interstate competition did not lead inevitably to the emergence 
of the so-called absolutist or modern state in some Weberian fashion. There were a number of 
different national trajectories that could eventuate in the emergence of more or less coercive, 
absolutist states that existed alongside polities with quite different constitutional structures 
though all had responded to the demands of warfare. See James, "Warfare and the Rise of the 
State", pp. 28-29 and passim. 

The Scottish mercenary as a migrant 
labourer in Europe, 1550-1650 1 

James Miller 

Between 1550 and 1650 the government in Scotland, whether as the monarch 
or as the Privy Council acting in the royal name, permitted more than sixty 
levies of troops to fight in continental Europe. This occurred throughout 
the period of study but with peaks in the 1570s and the 1620S-1640S, cor- 
responding with periods of fighting in the Low Countries and later in the 
Germanic lands in the Thirty Years War (1618-1648). This is summarized in 
Table 6.1. As the raising of soldiers to fight overseas also took place before 
and after these dates and as there were unofficial levies, despite attempts 
to stop them for fear of unrest or political embarrassment, the true extent of 
recruitment of men to fight overseas may never be fully known. The size of 
a licensed levy varied considerably, from as few as sixty men in the licences 
granted to Patrik Murray on 25 March 1602 for service in the Low Countries 
and to Thomas Moffat on 23 July 1635 for Swedish service in Prussia, to as 
many as several thousands. In at least some instances, for example for the 
3,000 men each to Robert Earl of Nithsdale, Alexander Lord Spynie, and 
James Sinclair of Murkle on 3 April 1627 for Danish service, these ambitious 
targets were not reached; and in the case of others, for example to Robert 
Stewart for Poland in 1623, very little, if any, recruiting took place. The 
more usual figures mentioned in the licences are 200 or 300 men. With a 
proviso in mind about the accuracy and reliability of these figures, it has 
been estimated that during the Thirty Years War (1618-1648), when the 
recruitment of soldiers for overseas service was at its height, as many as 
50,000 Scotsmen bore arms in European conflicts. 2 

1 I am grateful to Dr David Worthington, Head of the Centre for History, University of the 
Highlands and Islands, Dornoch, Scotland, for his help and encouragement with this paper. 

2 Murdoch, "Introduction", p. 19. Steve Murdoch and Alexia Grosjean have produced a da- 
tabase on Scots active in the military and other walks of life in northern Europe in the period 
between 1580 and 1707; this can be accessed at 



Table 6.1 A summary of some recruitment of soldiers in Scotland between 1550 and 1650 to 
join continental armies, as detailed in the Register of the Privy Council of Scotland (RPCS) 
and other sources. Some of the levies failed to achieve much or to reach the designated 
target numbers. 

Year Destination Number of men designated in the Source (all RPCS* 
source, with name of senior officer unless otherwise 

or recruiter in some instances 




300 footmen and 400 cavalry, fol- 

1, pp. 131-136 

lowed by recruitment of "2 ensigns" 

(Gilbert Kennedy, 3rd Earl of Cassilis) 







Unknown (Captain Moncur) 

1, p. 640 



1,600 (Archibald Ruthven) 

II, p. 235 



300 (Captain Campbell) 

II, p. 238 


Low Countries 

900, under three separate licences; it 

II, pp. 237,256. 

is likely that many more went without 



Low Countries 

13 licences issued - numbers of men 

II, p. 643 

or Flanders 

not specified but possibly 3,500 



150 (Captain Rentoun) 

II, p. 621 


Low Countries 


III, p. 23 




III, p. 213 


abroad" (Low 



Low Countries 

460 (including licence to Patrik 

VI, p. 721 




Unknown (Colonel Thomas Ogilvie) 

Fischer, p. 70** 



1,600 foot and 600 cavalry (Sir James 

Fischer, p. 71** 




200 cavalry (Robert Kinnaird) 

Fischer, p. 71** 




VIII, p. 619 



300 (Andrew Ramsay's illegal levy) 

IX, p. 430 



1,500 (Sir Andrew Gray) 

XII, pp. 255-259 




XII, p. 412 


Low Countries 

Unknown (Archibald Campbell, 


7th Earl of Argyle's recruitment for 

Spanish service) 



8,000 (Robert Stewart) 




1,200 (James Spens) 

XIII, p. 478 




Number of men designated in the 
source, wim name ot senior omcer 
or recruiter in some instances 

Source (all RPCS* 
unless oinerwise 


Count Mans- 


2nd ser., 1, p. 49 

feld's army 




Possibly 3,000 (Sir Donald Mackay, 

2nd ser., 1, p. 244 

(later Sweden) 

Lord Reay) 



9,000 (probably fewer than 5,000 

2nd ser., 1, p. 565 

recruited) (Nithsdale-Spynie-Murkle 




300 (James Spens) 

2nd ser., II, p. 397 


Low Countries 

Unknown (Hay of Kinfauns) 

2nd ser., Ill, p. 99 



1,200 (Alexander Hamilton), 1,200 (Sir 

2nd ser., Ill, 

George Cuninghame) 

pp. 136, 208 



2,000 (Sir Donald Mackay, Lord Reay) 

2nd ser., IV, p. 218 



6,000 (Sir James Hamilton, Marquis of 

Burnet, p. 5*** 




1,400 (Sir James Lumsden) 

2nd ser., IV, p. 483 



200 (Lt Col McDougall) 

2nd ser., IV, p. 525 



1,200 (Sir John Hepburn) 

2nd ser., V, p. 65 



60 (Thomas Moffat) 

2nd ser., VI, p. 65 


Low Countries 

300 (Lord Almond) 

2nd ser., VI, p. 225 



1,120 (Captain Robert Hume) 

2nd ser., VI, p. 401 



1,200 (Cuninghame, Monro, Stuart) 

2nd ser., VI, 

pp. 458, 484 



1,000 (Andrew, Lord Gray) 

2nd ser., VII, p. 103 



2,000 (Colonel Alexander Erskine of 

2nd ser., VII, 


pp. 106, 136 



6,000 (James Campbell, Earl of Irvine, 

2nd ser., VII, 

and others) 

pp. 247, 281, 302 



2,500 (William, 3rd Lord Cranstoun) 

Fischer, p. 122** 


* Register of the Privy Council of Scotland (1545-1689) 
** Fischer, The Scots in Sweden 

*** Burnet, The Memoires of the Lives and Actions of James and William Dukes of Hamilton and 
Castleherald etc. 

It can be argued that the term "mercenary" is not appropriate in describing 
these men. The term current in Scotland in the sixteenth and seventeenth 
centuries was the phrase "waged men of war" - in Scots, "wageit men of 
weare" or variants of it. "Mercenary" remains, however, a convenient word 



to describe the soldiers who were fighting for a commander or a political 
state other than that which from their place of birth or normal residence 
could be deemed their own, and it is used here in this sense. In discussions 
during the workshops in the Fighting for a Living project, it was suggested 
that a "mercenary" had to be free from social ties or obligations, available 
to be hired, and with no stake in a conflict other than as a paid man. These 
conditions do not apply to all the Scots who fought on the continent of 
Europe and, as will be apparent from this chapter, it was often social ties 
or obligations that led to them being recruited as soldiers in the first place. 
Often, too, their stake in a conflict sprang from religious leanings or a sense 
of honour; they were not always serving simply for the money. 

The military roles the Scottish mercenaries played in the wars of the 
period lie outside the scope of this chapter and are only summarized below. 3 
The focus here is on the circumstances or pressures in Scottish society that 
led so many to soldier abroad, in practice to constitute a form of migrant 
labour, rather than follow another livelihood at home. The chapter briefly 
describes the labour conditions they accepted. The information sources 
to which we can turn comprise contemporary legal and administrative 
records, letters, and other documents. Ordinary soldiers leave little trace in 
the records of the period and what does survive as evidence of their actions 
and motives is scant and unevenly spread in space and time. Other sources 
are the many histories of families and clans: they were usually written much 
later than the events they describe and are always subject to embellishment, 
but are our only access to a rich oral culture and tradition and, when treated 
with care, can provide valuable additional detail. 

The socio-economic background 

Lying on the periphery of Europe and having a relatively poorly developed 
economy, Scotland was open to the experience of economic emigration, a 
phenomenon enhanced during the years between 1550 and 1650 by popula- 
tion growth and by frequent seasons of severe dearth with resulting high 
food prices. 4 Several attempts have been made to estimate the population of 
the country in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and they agree that 

3 See, for example, Murdoch, Scotland and the Thirty Years' War; Miller, Swords for Hire. 

4 Socio-economic conditions are explored in general histories, e.g., Smout, A History of the 
Scottish People; Lynch, The Oxford Companion to Scottish History. David Worthington, British 
and Irish Emigrants and Exiles in Europe, has an overview of emigration studies. 



the total must have stood between 800,000 and a little over 1 million. The 
emigration of so many soldiers, therefore, represents the loss, occasionally 
temporary but often permanent, of a substantial proportion of the country's 
able-bodied young men and immediately provokes the question of why it 
took place, when it might appear to have been detrimental to the country's 
own well-being. 

The bulk of the population was scattered in rural villages and town- 
ships, and most burghs were small enough to ensure almost everyone was 
closely dependent on a relatively primitive agriculture that was dangerously 
susceptible to harvest failure. Time and again evidence of distress occurs in 
the historical record, and we find repeated attempts by the authorities to 
impose alleviating measures, such as the banning or licensing of the export 
of grain and livestock, and even attempting to limit the number of dishes 
that could be served at meals (although gradated in number according to 
status so that a bishop could have eight, but a burgess only three). 5 On 
21 June 1572 the Privy Council ordered people to remove themselves from 
the city of Edinburgh to stay with friends in the country where they might 
be "best staikit [best provided for]". 6 In the Chronicle of Aberdeen for the 
year 1578, we read that at that time there was "a great dearth of all kind of 
victuals through all Scotland, that the like was not seen in no man's day 
before. The meal was sold for six s[hillings] the peck, the ale for tenpence 
the pint, the wine from the best shipment forty pence the pint; fish and 
flesh were scant and dear." 7 

Epidemics of plague and other diseases added to the woes undergone 
by the general population. The Privy Council attempted to counter the 
spread of infection through restrictions on travel and the quarantining of 
sea travellers. There is no information on the numbers of people affected 
by such catastrophes, but their seriousness comes over clearly in what 
evidence does survive. In October 1606 the Earl of Dunfermline wrote to 
the king that "The tounes of Air and Striveling [Ayr and Stirling] ar almoste 
desolat"; this outbreak of plague lasted from 1603 to 1609, and took 500 lives 
in Perth in the winter of 1608-1609. 8 

For Scots who were free to go, therefore, the incentives to emigrate were 
strong. Some moved to England, despite long-standing hostility between 

5 Register of the Privy Council of Scotland (7545-1689) 14 vols (Edinburgh, 1877) [henceforth, 
RPCS], I, p. 94. 

6 Ibid., II, p. 148. 

7 Author's translation of Scots original; in "The Chronicle of Aberdeen", Miscellany of the 
Spalding Club (Aberdeen, 1842), II, p. 47. 

8 Letters and State Papers During the Reign of King fames the Sixth, p. 91. 



the neighbouring nations and the fact that there was legislation in England 
targeted against the Scots as enemy aliens. These emigrants, predominantly 
men, practised various trades and professions but, unsurprisingly in view 
of the frequent outbreaks of warfare between the two countries, none is 
listed as having been a soldier. 9 The pathways to the continent were also 
well established through trade. In the later sixteenth century the favoured 
destination for Scottish emigrants was the Baltic area, in what are now 
Poland and its neighbours. Several thousand Scots are estimated to have 
taken ship for such ports as Stettin (Szczecin) and Danzig (Gdansk) and 
then to have spread throughout central and eastern Europe. 10 Many became 
respectable merchants, while others remained poor itinerant pedlars. 
Scotland also had a trading base in the town of Veere at the mouth of the 
Scheldt - and there was steady traffic across the North Sea. As the Dutch 
had embraced Calvinism, a form of Protestantism shared with Scotland, 
it is easy to understand why Scots should be drawn to this part of Europe, 
where manyjoined the armed struggle in the Netherlands. When he wrote 
a prospectus in 1624 to attract settlers to the lands he had been recently 
granted in maritime Canada, Sir William Alexander observed that "Scotland 
by reason of her populousness being constrained to disburden herself (like 
the Bees) did every yeare send forth swarmes, whereof great numbers did 
haunt Pole [Poland] with most extreme kind of drudgerie (if not dying 
under the burden) scraping a few crummes together, til of late that they 
were compelled, abandoning their ordinary calling, to betake themselves 
to the warres against Russians, Turks or Swedens." 11 What did the emigrants 
expect to find abroad? Overwhelmingly they tried to make a living through 
some kind of trade or mercantile activity, making use of family connec- 
tions to obtain employment and opportunity. What Sir William Alexander 
remarks on - abandoning trade for soldiering - was a response to economic 
misfortune wherever there was a demand for men to fill an army's ranks. 

Emigration as soldiers 

Men also emigrated specifically to find employment as soldiers. The Privy 
Council was aware in June 1573 of "a gude nowmer [good number] [...] of 

9 Galloway and Murray, "Scottish Emigration to England 1400-1560". 

10 See, for example, Fischer, The Scots in Eastern and Western Prussia; and the international 
conference on "Scotland and Poland, a Historical Relationship, 1500-2009", Edinburgh, 2009. 

11 "Prospectus of the Colony of New Scotland, 1624", quoted in Davidson, The Davidsons, p. 153. 



this realm" prepared to go abroad "under pretens to serve in the wearis 
[wars] in foreyn countries". 12 The Council also saw an opportunity here to 
relieve social pressure at home: in 1572, mindful of "the present hunger, 
derth and scarcitie of viveris [scarcity of food]", it allowed men freely to 
travel to the Low Countries to fight in the cause of Dutch independence. 13 
The licensing of recruitment was an attempt on the part of government 
to control what was already happening irrespective of the wishes of the 
authorities and, perhaps more importantly, counter any attempt to hide an 
armed conspiracy under the cloak of recruitment for overseas service. In 
September 1587 the Privy Council issued a proclamation to be read at the 
market crosses in all the main burghs forbidding anyone to raise "bandis 
of men of weare [bands of men of war]" or to put themselves in arms, enrol 
under any captain, or go abroad as a soldier without royal licence. 14 It was 
forbidden to attract soldiers away from royal service and for levies to as- 
semble within sixteen miles of the young James VI's residence at Stirling 
Castle. Recruiting captains were urged to embark their men at the nearest 
port, and at times were ordered to recruit without using drums, presumably 
for fear of rousing excitement or animosity in the general populace. Coping 
with the unruly behaviour of mobs of would-be soldiers on their way to 
seaports was a concern of the Privy Council in 1605, and the presence in the 
country in 1609 of two companies of Irish mercenaries forced by bad weather 
to land at Peterhead while en route to Sweden worried the Council greatly. 15 
As an example of an unofficial levy that was also declared illegal, we have 
the episode in 1612 when the Privy Council tried to prevent recruitment 
for service in the Swedish army against Denmark. The Council informed 
James VI, now resident in London as the king of Britain, that men had been 
violently pressed and taken against their will. Official attempts by the Privy 
Council to nip the levy in the bud included searching ships about to sail, 
ordering the discharge of recruits, and summoning to its presence Alex- 
ander Ramsay, the senior officer (who did not appear and was thereafter 
denounced as a rebel). 16 

12 RPCS, II, p. 235. 

13 Ibid., II, p. 148. 

14 Ibid., IV, p. 211. 

15 Ibid., VIII, p. 390. 

16 Ibid., IX, pp. 430-461. 



Indigenous military practices 

One factor that made soldiering a viable option for young men going abroad 
and enhanced the feasibility of recruiting was the long tradition in the 
country of armed service. It was the custom for nobles to keep trains of 
armed men. The traditional view of Scotland as a country where, up until 
the Treaty of Union in 1707, the tension between the monarch and the 
nobility often caused the latter to break into rebellion or take up arms in 
pursuit of their own interests against either the crown or each other has 
been queried by recent historians, but it remains true that feuding, raiding, 
and the signing of bonds of manrent were common and that Scotland was a 
country prone to the violent resolution of difference. 17 Comments from the 
writings of John Major (or Mair) are relevant here. "If two nobles of equal 
rank happen to be very near neighbours, quarrels and even shedding of 
blood are a common thing between them; and their very retainers cannot 
meet without strife", he observed in 1521 in his History of Great Britain. "The 
farmers [...] keep a horse and weapons of war, and are ready to take part 
in [their lord's] quarrel, be it just or unjust, with any powerful lord, if they 
only have a liking for him, and with him, if need be, to fight to the death. 
The farmers have further this fault: that they do not bring up their sons to 
any handicraft. Shoemakers, tailors, and all such craftsmen they reckon as 
contemptible and unfit for war." 18 Major was more critical of Highlanders: 
"They are full of mutual dissensions, and war rather than peace is their 
normal condition. The Scottish kings have with difficulty been able to 
withstand the inroads of these men." 19 

The social structure of the country was complicated by major cultural 
differences between the various regions, the most important being the 
one between what can be usefully, though crudely, termed the Lowlands 
and the Highlands, a cultural frontier often termed the Highland Line. 
John Major was aware of this but it is also commented upon by John of 
Fordun, a cleric who wrote what is regarded as the first full-scale history 
of Scotland in the mid-fourteenth century: "The people of the coast are of 
domestic and civilised habits, trusty, patient and urbane, decent in their 
attire, affable and peaceful, devout in divine worship, yet always prone to 
resist a wrong at the hands of their enemies. The highlanders and people of 
the islands, on the other hand, are a savage and untamed nation, rude and 

17 Wormald, Lords and Men in Scotland; Grant, Independence and Nationhood. 

18 Hume Brown, Scotland before 7700 from Contemporary Documents, pp. 58-59. 

19 Ibid., p. 60. 



independent, given to rapine." 20 Fordun's view was biased, but the cultural 
divide had become real by his lifetime. His "savage and untamed nation" 
comprised of course the mainly Gaelic-speaking clan society that played 
a prominent part in the Jacobite risings of the seventeenth and eighteenth 
centuries. This was a largely pastoral culture with a strong warrior ethos, 
grouped in kindreds and adherents holding territories, very prone to feuding 
with each other and capable of moving quickly into military mode. Within 
clan or kindred, blood relationships were important, and war parties of 
the clan were usually commanded by the chief himself or blood relatives. 
Writing in 1578, Bishop John Leslie, himself Highland born, showed that this 
warrior society persisted for a very long time: "A peculiar and proper vice 
is among these men, and to their well-being most pestilent, that naturally 
they are fond willingly and vehemently, if their masters command them, 
to sedition and strife: they rather be esteemed as noble, or at least as bold 
men of war, than as labourers of the ground or men of craft, irrespective 
of poverty or riches." 21 

Mention should be made in passing of a special class of mercenary soldier 
that sprang from the Gaelic Highland world. This was the "galloglass", a term 
Anglicized from the Gaelic word galloglaigh, meaning "foreign warrior". 
They were a restricted class of professional fighters from the western sea- 
board of the Highlands who found service in the retinues of Irish chieftains 
from the thirteenth century until the early 1600s. A few found service in 
Sweden during the Thirty Years War but, as a specialized group, they lie 
outside the main scope of this chapter. 22 

In the south of Scotland, in the Borders, the country marking the frontier 
with England, in the same period existed a society similar to that of the 
clans in having a pastoral economy and a predilection for raiding and feud- 
ing. Here there were kindreds loyal to particular territory-holding families 
who could switch easily into military mode. In Bishop Leslie's opinion 
in 1578, fear of war inhibited the cultivation of the soil among them. The 
similarity between Highlander and Borderer was recognized at the time: 
"The roll of the clans that have captains, chiefs and chieftains on whom 
they depend often against the will of their landlords on the Borders as in 
the Highlands." 23 

20 Ibid., p. 12. 

21 Author's translation of Scots original from ibid., pp. 165-166. 

22 A general introduction can be found in Cannan, Galloglass. 

23 Author's translation of Scots original, RPCS, IV, p. 782. 



Between the Highland and Border regions, in which the Scottish 
monarchy had a continuous struggle to maintain some hegemony, lay the 
Lowlands where approximately 60 per cent, from the best estimates, of 
the population lived, in a society divided between rural settlements and 
larger burghs. This region formed a belt across the centre of the country 
and extended up the east coast to the environs of Aberdeen and beyond to 
the Moray Firth. Presumably these were the people Fordun considered of 
domestic and civilized habit, yet in his study of bloodfeud in Scotland, K.M. 
Brown noted that 40 per cent of the 365 feuds he identified as occurring 
between 1573 and 1625 took place in the Lowlands with a further 23 per 
cent in the Borders. 24 

Although the Highlands and the Borders had the potential to be a 
good recruiting ground, it is significant that, as far as we can tell from the 
surviving evidence, including the names of the men involved, the bulk 
of the recruiting for overseas service took place in the Lowlands, in the 
most settled part of Scotland. The recruitment of soldiers in the Highlands 
did not become significant until quite late in the period of study, when 
Mackay's Regiment was raised in 1626. One of Mackay's officers, Robert 
Monro, named the senior Scottish officers in Swedish service in 1632: of the 
thirty colonels in his list, nine are known to have come from the Lowlands 
or the north-east; another sixteen probably from the same regions, judging 
by their surnames; only four from the Highlands; and one, the son of Scots 
emigrants, actually from Finland. Of the fifty-two lieutenant colonels in 
Monro's list, only six are Highland, and five of these are from the Lowland- 
influenced parts on the east coast. 25 

In his major work on the Scots Brigade in the Netherlands, James Fergu- 
son provides plenty of evidence for the Lowland contribution to this notable 
example of Scottish military service abroad. 26 To give one example, in a 
document concerning soldiers to be paid after the death of their captain, 
Archibald Arskin (Erskine) at Zwolle in December 1608, of the forty-one 
legible signatures, fifteen are indisputably Scots and a further ten could be 
Scots, and the names suggest a Lowland origin for all of them. As a general 
comment, Ferguson says in his introduction: Forth-side counties, especially 
Fife, "had the closest connection with the brigade, but Perthshire, Forfar, 
Aberdeenshire and the Highlands, more especially after General Mackay 
[1640-1692] entered it, and other parts of Scotland had their representatives 

24 Brown, Bloodfeud in Scotland 15/3-1625, p. 5. 

25 Monro, Monro His Expedition with the Worthy Scots Regiment. 

26 Ferguson, The Scots Brigade in the Service of the United Netherlands. 



under its colours". 27 The General Mackay referred to is Hugh Mackay of 
Scourie (c. 1640-1692), with no connection to the earlier Mackay's Regiment. 
Proximity to the east-coast ports and ease of travel played an obvious part 
in this preponderance of recruitment in the Lowlands but, as we have seen, 
the Lowlands were only relatively more peaceful and ordered than the 
farther-flung Highlands. 

The nobles were capable of laying aside their own differences, at least to 
some extent, when an external threat appeared - always from England. In 
February 1546, for example, the Privy Council called on two Border families 
- the Kerrs of Cessford and Ferniehurst, and the Scotts of Branxholme - to 
set aside their own raids on each other "during the time of this present war 
between the realms of Scotland and England" and instead seek redress 
through the courts of law. 28 The Minute in the Privy Council papers gives a 
vivid impression of the kindreds involved in these quarrels when it details 
"their kin, friends, men, tenants, adherents, allies and supporters" as coming 
under the order. Robert I (1274-1329) was able through violent suppression 
of his enemies to unite much of the country behind him during the Wars of 
Independence. His army contained men from different parts of the country, 
Highland as well as Lowland and Border, but despite such periods of near 
unity it remained true for most of the Stewart period, from 1371 onwards, 
that the levying of troops to prosecute the many outbreaks of hostilities 
with England was primarily a Lowland affair, with only a relatively small 
contribution of men from the southern edges of the Highlands and from the 
Borders. In a national emergency, though, the propensity of the Borderers 
for raiding and feuding allowed the rapid raising of a skilled and mobile 
cavalry force. This is described in a Minute in the papers of the Privy Council 
in October 1545: it charges three commissioners with the raising of 1,000 
horsemen to "pass and remain upon the Borders for the space of three 
months for defence of the realm against our old enemy of England", and 
notes that they will be paid from an allotted sum of £18,000 Scots. 29 

At various times during the sixteenth century the Privy Council ordered 
a full levy of foot and horse. The example, noted in the Register of the Privy 
Council for 21 August 1546, to muster men for the siege and capture of Saint 
Andrews Castle, divided the realm into four parts, which included the 
sweep of coastal territory up the east coast via Aberdeen to the shores of the 
Moray Firth. All four were mainly part of the Lowlands and only impinged 

27 Ibid., I, p. xxv. 

28 RPCS, I, p. 22. 

29 Ibid., I, p. 16. 



on the Highlands, although there were also at times Highland elements in 
the assembled army. 30 Such summonses were proclaimed at market crosses 
in all the burghs, and called on men between the ages of sixteen and sixty, 
dwelling in the countryside or in the towns, to assemble for military service 
with their weapons and enough provisions for twenty days. The resulting 
army was commonly called the Scottish host. A significant feature of the 
system was that it allowed the monarch to raise an army at minimum cost 
to the usually impoverished royal treasury, as the men called on to fill the 
ranks were unpaid. 

To maintain a degree of preparedness for fighting there existed a system 
of training called wappenschaws (weapon shows) held at regular intervals in 
local districts. The first relevant act, in 1424 during the reign of James I, called 
on all men to begin training in archery when they reached the age of twelve 
years. The wappenschaw acts were reconfirmed and amended throughout the 
following years and reigns some fifteen times before 1600. This was partly to 
promote them when they had lapsed and partly to keep pace with technologi- 
cal change. In 1456 we come upon the first mentions of artillery: "it is thought 
expedient that the king make request to certain of the great barons of the land 
that are of might to make carts of war, and each of them to have two guns, 
and each of them to have two chambers with the remnant of the gear that is 
appropriate thereto, with cunning [skilled] men to shoot them. And if they 
have no craft in shooting them, as now, they may learn before the time comes 
that it will be needful to have them." 31 Hand guns in the form of hackbuts are 
first mentioned in the wappenschaw legislation in 1535. Every man who held 
land to the value of £100 was required to have a gun and people trained in 
its use. Fines of livestock or money were imposed upon defaulters who failed 
to attend wappenschaws. Those who had no skill for archery were called on 
to appear with hand weapons such as a spear or axe. This act from the reign 
of James II (1437-1460) is illustrative of the wappenschaw system and also 
reveals why it may not always have been popular among the common people. 
"It is decreed and ordained that wappinschawings be held by the lords and 
barons, spiritual and temporal, four times in the year, and that football and 
golf be utterly cried down and disused, and that the bow-marks be made at 
each parish kirk, a pair of butts, and shooting be made each Sunday. And that 
each man shoot six shots at the least under the pain to be raised upon them 
that come not; at the least 2d to be given to them that come to the bowmark 

30 Ibid., I, p. 38. 

31 Ref James II 1456/5 in Records of 'the Parliaments of Scotland to ijoj, available athttp://www. (accessed 3 February 2011). 


to drink. And this to be used from Christmas till Allhallowmass after [...] 
And as touching the football and the golf we ordain it to be punished by 
the baron's fine." 32 The ordinary men of the realm may have preferred their 
football or their golf to spending what little time they had free from labour 
in a kind of home guard. Surviving court books from burghs and baronies 
contain references to men being fined for failure to attend the wappenschaw. 
For example, the Court Book of the Barony of Leys in Aberdeenshire states, 
regarding a wappenschaw held on 24 January 1626, that on the following day 
fourteen men who had failed to attend were fined between 10s and 40s each. 33 
Despite some resistance to attending training, by the time of the main 
period of recruitment for armed service in Europe, there was a pool of 
manpower with at least some basic military experience on which to draw. 
There was also a ready precedent for sending troops abroad. In the early 
fifteenth century, contingents of men, several thousand strong, had been 
sent to France to fight for the Dauphin against the English. Before that 
period, individual knights had gone abroad from Scotland to fight in vari- 
ous conflicts but this was the first time there was a deliberate export of 
soldiers to aid a continental ally, a significant episode in the long-standing 
relationship between France and Scotland, known as the Auld Alliance. The 
Alliance also produced the Garde Ecossais, a small elite unit that comprised 
part of the French royal bodyguard. 34 An attempt to reinvigorate this al- 
liance in the mid-sixteenth century led to the raising of more troops for 
service in France. In 1552, the Privy Council ordered commissioners "over 
all parts of the realm" - though significantly no commissioner is named for 
the western Highlands - "to vesy [recruit] the men of the shire, including 
the men in the burghs if they are said to be able and reliable" to go to France. 
The same order included the raising of 400 horsemen in the Borders and 
the Lowlands for the same service. 35 

"The laudable profession of arms" 

Against this sixteenth-century background of economic hardship and 
emigration stands a major factor in our study - the attitude of the noble 

32 Hume Brown, Scotland before 7700 from Contemporary Documents, p. 26. 

33 "Court Book of the Barony of Leys", in Miscellany of the Spalding Club (Aberdeen, 1852), V, 
p. 223. 

34 See, for example, Macdougall, "An Antidote to the English". 

35 RPCS, I, p. 134. 



and landowning classes to warfare, an attitude summed up in the phrase 
coined by Robert Monro in his account published in 1637 of his experiences 
in Mackay's Regiment in the Thirty Years War and used as a heading above. 36 
For this section of society being a soldier was a natural calling. In his study 
of this class, in Noble Society in Scotland, Keith Brown describes how the 
nobility held a martial ethos as an "integral facet of their identity". 37 In the 
system of national defence the nobility provided the monarch with his 
officer corps and also, through their tenants, with his manpower. In turn the 
non-noble landowners, the lairds, imitated the actions and shared the at- 
titudes of their social superiors. In the period under study, the revolt against 
Spanish hegemony in the Low Countries and from 1618 the Thirty Years 
War, with smaller outbreaks of warfare elsewhere across the continent, 
offered plenty of opportunity for the members of these leading classes to 
exercise their love of arms and, in the process, they hoped, win fortune as 
well as glory. The temptation was particularly strong for those unlikely to 
inherit family wealth - younger sons, illegitimate sons - and those with 
a military talent but no patron to help them up the social ladder at home. 
In his book, Robert Monro talks of his comrades as "worthy Cavaliers [...] 
whereof some from meane condition have risen to supreme honour, wealth 
and dignitie". 38 Finding employment as soldiers on the continent became 
almost a tradition in a few extended families: from the family of the Lords 
Forbes, three younger brothers, all sons of the tenth Lord Forbes, and the 
illegitimate son of one of these brothers were killed in the Thirty Years War. 39 
It was also recognized that military service abroad could open the door to 
other opportunities, as is illustrated by the Innes family of Cotts in Aberdeen- 
shire. Alexander Innes of Cotts had several sons: the eldest son John served 
in the French guard before he inherited from his father in 1634; the second 
son Alexander wrote to his father from London on 12 December 1627, "My 
brother Robert is [...] shortly to return to Germanie. I assure you Sir he has 
made ane gaynfull voyage. He hes imployed in London [2,000 merks] whitch 
I hope within half yeir will be in returne foure, and in Germanie he hes foure 
thousand moir. He hes ane angel in the day allowance from the Regiment so 
long as he is abrod"; Robert was Alexander's fifth son and was at this time 
a captain in the English army after previously being in the French guard. 40 

36 Monro, Monro His Expedition with the Worthy Scots Regiment, title page. 

37 Brown, Noble Society in Scotland, p. 3. 

38 Monro, Monro His Expedition with the Worthy Scots Regiment, Address to the reader. 

39 Tayler and Tayler, The House of Forbes, p. 168. 

40 Forbes, Ane Account of the Familie of Innes, p. 215. 


The recruitment of soldiers 

These sons of nobles and lairds, who saw themselves as professional 
soldiers, had a better chance of finding a place in a continental army if, 
especially in times of war, they could arrive with their own contingent 
of men, already armed or not. There was also the incentive of benefiting 
financially from levying men, always a tempting prospect for lairds who 
had landed themselves in debt, although this did not always work out well. 
In August 1661 Lord Forbes petitioned Charles II for payment he had never 
received for levying men for the king of Denmark's service in 1626 as part 
of Mackay's Regiment; the failure to pay him on time had resulted in a 
serious debt burden. 41 The attractions of military service and cash payments 
for recruiting men are obvious for landowners struggling to make ends 
meet during years of climatic difficulty, and would have been especially 
marked in the case of younger or illegitimate sons with no prospect of an 
inheritance. Unfortunately we know very little about most of the named 
military captains to whom the Privy Council issued recruitment licences. 
Many would have been professional soldiers but it is not clear how many 
were already in the service of foreign armies and had returned home to 
levy men. 

Alongside the professional military men appeared some merchants, 
referred to as enterprisers, who offered to provide recruits to any needy 
commander. A prominent example of this group was Sir James Spens of 
Wormiston, a Fife landowner and merchant adventurer born in 1571. He 
was probably already trading in the Baltic area when he and his brother 
were approached by Karl IX of Sweden in 1605 to recruit 1,600 foot soldiers 
and 600 cavalry for Swedish service against Poland. This service was to be 
done with the British monarch's permission, and Spens was to be paid 1,600 
daler for every 300 men and appointed as colonel in overall command of 
them, presumably ensuring for himself a regular salary. 42 The daler, rex- 
dollar, or riksdaler was the Swedish equivalent of the German reichsthaler, 
the international European currency of the time. This was the start of a 
rewarding career for the Fife merchant: he went on to organize further 
troop levies, serve as an ambassador for the British and Swedish monarchs, 
and was eventually ennobled as a Swedish baron before his death in 1632. 

41 Tayler and Tayler, The House of Forbes, p. 185. 

42 Fuller biography available at (ID 1642) (accessed 
1 February 2011). 



As an example of a recruiter who failed to fulfil the terms of a recruitment 
contract, let me summarize the career of John Gordon of Ardlogie. The 
second son of an Aberdeenshire laird, Gordon received funds to levy and 
transport men to Germany as part of the larger recruitment under James 
Sinclair of Murkle in March 1627. This he failed to do and was outlawed - in 
the Scots legal expression, "put to the horn". He evaded arrest and eventu- 
ally escaped to Germany where, it appears, he was killed in 1638 in the 
contingents commanded by fellow Scot, also called John Gordon. 43 

During the reign of Karl IX's son, Gustavus Adolphus, contracts for 
recruitment were based on rates laid down by the Swedish government. 44 
A letter dated 21 April 1629 contains articles of agreement between Sir James 
Spens and a Captain Alexander Hamilton for the recruitment of 1,200 men. 45 
Hamilton received the sum of £1,696 "lawfull English money" as equivalent 
to 7,680 riksdaler, or 4.5 riksdaler per £1. The captain's expenses in recruiting 
included the provision of food and drink for recruits, usually some clothing, 
and their transport costs across the North Sea, as well as a hand-out when 
a man signed on. In his study of recruitment for Sweden in the 1620s, J.A. 
Fallon calculated that it cost 6s 8d to ship a man from Scotland to the Elbe, 
and that two weeks' food and drink for a recruit cost 9s 4d. This leaves a 
balance of 4s, almost 1 riksdaler, a sum that Fallon suggested would have 
been handed to the newly signed-on recruit. 46 This seems very generous and 
we must allow the possibility that some of the money might have stayed 
in the recruiter's pocket, particularly as a recruiter could face a fine if he 
failed to bring in the number of men promised or required. 

Other factors and motivations 

A factor of some importance in recruitment in the 1550-1650 period was 
religion. Solidarity with other members of the same religious denomination 
led many to take up arms: this was true of the recruitment to fight in the 
1570s in the Low Countries against the Habsburgs; in the effort to restore 
Frederick and his queen, Elizabeth Stewart, daughter of James VI, to the 
Rhine Palatinate after 1618; and in the perceived defence of the Protestant 
cause under Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden. The fall of Haarlem to the Span- 

43 Bulloch, The House of Gordon, p. 49. 

44 Fallon, "Scottish Mercenaries in the Service of Denmark and Sweden", p. 43. 

45 Quoted in Fraser, Memorials of the Earls of Haddington, p. 92. 

46 Fallon, "Scottish Mercenaries in the Service of Denmark and Sweden", p. 183. 



ish in 1573 aroused an unknown but sizeable number of Lowland Scots to 
volunteer in the Dutch cause, and the Privy Council noted the issue of a 
recruiting licence to Captain Thomas Robesoun to be in the "defence of 
Goddis trew religioun". 47 

The Scots Brigade in the Low Countries 

It can be seen in Table 6.1 that there was a sizeable movement of fighting 
men from Scotland mainly to France and Scandinavia in the mid-sixteenth 
century This was followed by a significant series of levies for service in the 
Low Countries in the 1570s after the Dutch rising to throw off Habsburg 
rule. The levies began as the raising of companies under individual captains 
but in 1586 these companies were amalgamated into two regiments. The 
organization of the Scots in Dutch service thereafter went through a num- 
ber of changes but a Scots Brigade, as the units were collectively labelled, 
remained a feature of the Dutch army until 1782. As already stated, the units 
of the brigade were initially recruited mainly in the Lowlands, and it was 
not until the mid-seventeenth century that we find significant recruitment 
from the Highlands. In an age when sons were often inclined and indeed 
expected to follow the same trade as their fathers, it is no surprise to find 
it being said of the Scots Brigade: "Probably no military body ever existed 
in which members of the same families were so constantly employed for 
generations." 48 The records of the Brigade include note of Dutch authorities 
making the journey across the North Sea to seek men, for example in 1594 
when ambassadors crossed from Veere to Leith on such an errand, and 
again in 1632 when the States General sought to reinforce the existing four 
English and three Scottish regiments in Dutch service. 

Recruitment for service in the Thirty Years War 

The second major phase of recruitment of soldiers for overseas service 
came during the Thirty Years War. The early levies were used to reinforce 
the army of Count Ernst von Mansfeld, the mercenary commander, in the 
campaign in Bohemia in support of James VPs son-in-law, Frederick of 
Bohemia, against the Holy Roman Empire. Later levies were also destined to 

47 RPCS, II, p. 237. 

48 Ferguson, The Scots Brigade in the Service of the United Netherlands, I, p. xxiv. 



fight in the effort to restore Frederick to the Upper and Lower Palatinate and 
to strengthen the Danish opposition to west-bound Habsburg forces, as well 
as to join the forces of Gustavus Adolphus. Large levies were implemented 
in the late 1630s and early 1640s for French service in the latter stages of the 
Thirty Years War when France entered the war in alliance with the Swedes 
and others against the Holy Roman Empire. 

Attitudes to military service 

The social hierarchies that existed in Scotland made the recruitment of men 
easier than it might otherwise have been. In the rural Highlands, the clan 
system could be readily adapted to secure men for continental levies. In 
1633 the parish minister of Wardlaw near Inverness recorded that Thomas 
Fraser, son of a local laird, used his clan connections and the assistance of 
Lord Lovat, the clan chief, to raise recruits. 49 In another instance involving 
the Frasers, in 1656, clan leaders helped a recruiter enlist forty-three men 
in three days. It seems that the use of such social networks was standard 
procedure. When Sir Donald Mackay of Strathnaver issued commissions in 
his proposed regiment to the leading young men in neighbouring clans, he 
undoubtedly expected at least some of them to respond with enthusiasm 
and bring men with them to the colours, and this is indeed what happened. 

In the Lowlands, the subordinate classes appear not to have shared 
the attitude to martial glory found among the nobles and lairds. The poor 
socio-economic conditions in the late sixteenth century and the familiarity 
with travel to the Low Countries prevalent on the east coast of Scotland may 
have helped in the recruitment of men in the Lowlands to join the conflict 
in the Netherlands, but later during the seventeenth century there is clear 
evidence of passive and even active resistance to recruitment. In April 1620, 
for instance, the levy to provide 1,500 men to go with Colonel Andrew Gray 
to Bohemia was proceeding slowly, and towards the end of that month the 
Privy Council ordered all beggars, vagabonds, and "masterless" men with 
no lawful trade or means of livelihood to enlist. Failure to comply with 
this command could result in a whipping or being burnt on the cheek for a 
first offence, and hanging for a second, at first glance a seemingly counter- 
productive threat. 50 The Council also directed criminals to be placed in the 
army, and in the Borders a proclamation was read out at market crosses 

49 Fraser, Chronicles of the Frasers, pp. 255, 417. 

50 RPCS, XII, p. 259. 



to announce that reivers, men convicted of feuding and cattle raiding, 
were to be marked down for transportation. Early in May Colonel Gray had 
sufficient men to set off for Hamburg, but in the last days before sailing 
some of the recruits deserted and went into hiding in the Edinburgh area. 
From 1620 onwards it appears to have become common for courts to offer 
criminals the opportunity to go abroad in military service and for recruiting 
officers to visit jails in the search for men. 

A major levy was launched in the spring of 1627 to provide men for the 
service of the king of Denmark, then facing the advancing forces of the Holy 
Roman Empire in north-western Germany. The three commanders - Robert, 
Earl of Nithsdale, Alexander Lord Spynie, and James Sinclair of Murkle 

- were each granted £4,000 sterling for the task. The target of 9,000 men 

- 3,000 each - was extremely ambitious. Efforts to help recruiters attain 
it included another pronouncement from the Privy Council about taking 
up vagabonds and idle men, except that this time the Council went into 
more detail and mentioned "all Egyptians [gypsies]" and fugitive soldiers 
from other levies. 51 The Council also noted reports of the targeted recruits 
forming themselves into "societies and companies" and preparing to use 
firearms to resist recruitment. The Council warned sheriffs and burgh 
magistrates to apprehend all potential recruits from among the idle and 
masterless in their jurisdictions and asked them to assist the recruiting 
officers "in bringing of these people to their colours". Sea captains were 
forbidden to give fugitives passage to Ireland. The levy proceeded during 
the summer but it soon brought objections from respectable sections of 
the community. Recruiting captains were clearly desperate to fill their 
quotas and were resorting to dubious tactics. The Council learned in June 
of men going into hiding and deserting, and also of men being violently 
taken against their will. 52 In July, leading burgesses in Edinburgh protested 
that their sons and grandsons at the college were being induced to enlist 
by "alluring speeches", causing some families to withdraw their offspring 
from the college and send them to other burghs for safety. 53 There were 
complaints from the town of Burntisland in Fife in September that the 
soldiers waiting to go abroad were causing "manie great disordours". 54 In 
the midst of this troubled time around the Forth, Charles I launched a new 
war against France and called for a levy for men for an expedition to relieve 

51 Ibid., 2nd series, I, p. 565. 

52 Ibid., 2nd series, VIII, p. 379. 

53 Ibid., 2nd series, II, p. 7. 

54 Ibid., 2nd series, II, p. 79. 



the siege of La Rochelle. The Nithsdale-Spynie-Murkle levy probably raised 
only 5,000 men by the time the contingents sailed for Denmark in October. 
In 1629, Murkle was still trying to reach his original target of 3,000, had 
exhausted the recruitment grant, and had "ingaged his awin estait for the 
furtherance thairof". 55 Interestingly, in his petition to the Privy Council 
describing his unfortunate predicament, Murkle seems most concerned 
over being disgraced in the eyes of the king of Denmark and asks for a 
hearing with Charles I in the hope the British king will plead his case in 

By the late 1620s, therefore, it is evident that recruiters were finding it 
difficult to attract sufficient numbers of men to fulfil their obligations in 
the Lowlands, hitherto the main part of the country for the recruitment of 
soldiers for overseas service. The articles of agreement for recruitment of 
men for Sweden between Sir James Spens and Captain Alexander Hamilton 
in April 1629 refer to "the scantnes of men in Scotland". 56 During this period, 
the Lowlands enjoyed improvements in trade and the economy, better sea- 
sons for agriculture, and fewer outbreaks of infectious disease. 57 Prospects at 
home must have appeared better than they had in the previous half-century. 
It is only at this point that recruitment in the Highlands becomes significant. 
Charles I asked for 200 Highland bowmen for his La Rochelle expedition in 
1627 but in the previous year Sir Donald Mackay of Strathnaver (ennobled as 
Lord Reay in 1628) in the far north of the country had taken it upon himself 
to escape some domestic difficulties by obtaining from the king a licence to 
raise troops for the continent on a much larger scale. Sir Robert Gordon, a 
neighbouring landlord, and possibly a cause of some of Sir Donald's domestic 
difficulties, recorded the eventuality as follows: 

The yeir 1626 Sir Donald Macky (a gentleman of a sturring spirite) 
finding himselff crossed at home, and matters not succeeding accord- 
ing to his expectation, either in his owne particular estate or against 
his neighbours he taks resolution to leave the kingdome; and to this 
end he causeth his freinds to deale at court with the king for a licence 
to transport men to the Count Mansfeild into Germanie. 58 

55 Ibid., 2nd series, III, p. 147. 

56 Quoted in Fraser, Memorials of the Earls of Haddington, p. 92. 

57 Smout, A History of the Scottish People, pp. 99-103. 

58 Gordon, A Genealogical History of the Earldom of Sutherland, p. 401. 



Count Mansfeld's army was defeated before Mackay's contingents reached it 
but Mackay's Regiment, as it became called, entered the service of Denmark. 
After the Peace of Liibeck in July 1629, its officers offered their allegiance to 
Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden and took their men with them. In contrast 
with the struggle faced by Nithsdale and his colleagues to fill the ranks, 
the levy in the northern Highlands proceeded relatively quickly. Mackay 
received his licence in March 1626 and by October at least 2,000 men were 
ready to embark for the Elbe estuary. 59 There were two possible reasons 
for this: this part of the country had not been really affected by previous 
recruitments, and it was a reflection of the ease with which clan society 
could be mobilized. Mackay was ably assisted in recruitment by the Forbes 
family in Aberdeenshire, where a proportion of the recruits were raised. 60 
Despite the relative speediness of the levy, Mackay's recruitment drive 
suffered, probably like all levies, from desertion, from men enrolling, 
receiving the initial payment, and then going into hiding. According to 
the Privy Council, "a grite number of thame" did this, and severe punish- 
ment was proclaimed for them and any who helped them evade justice. 61 
In the long run, even the clan system came under stress and did not always 
produce recruits: in September 1636 Captain Robert Innes, a laird's son 
from Mackay's Regiment, was angered enough to strike tenants of Gordon 
of Dunkinty near Elgin when they refused to allow their sons or servants 
to be recruited. Efforts to find new recruits by Mackay himself in 1629 also 
had some trouble in finding men, partly a reflection of the low population 
density of the northern Highlands. Possibly to avoid stirring up public unrest 
over continual recruitment, when the Privy Council granted a licence to 
raise 300 men as replacements for regiments already in Swedish service, it 
added the instruction that this was to be done quietly, without drums or 
display of colours. 62 

In July and August 1632, the Dutch States General sought to recruit 2,000 
men in England and 1,500 men in Scotland to reinforce existing regiments. 63 
Charles I gave his permission readily enough to the Dutch ambassador 
and his colleagues but warned them that the conditions on offer - each 
recruiting officer to receive 8 guilders per man and the command of a 
company - would attract no one. Various reasons were put forward - that it 

59 RPCS, 2nd series, I, pp. 244-245. 

60 Tayler and Tayler, House of Forbes, p. 177. 

61 RPCS, 2nd series, I, p. 311. 

62 Ibid., 2nd series, II, p. 397. 

63 Ferguson, The Scots Brigade in the Service of Denmark andSweden, I, p. 411. 



was the wrong time of year, as high wages were on offer during the harvest; 
that recruiting was going ahead daily for Sweden and Muscovy the latter 
offering 15 guilders per short month to the soldiers; that the targets per 
recruiting officer were too high; that officers would not like to recruit men 
and then not be put in command over them; that money was still owing to 
the Earl of Morton for a previous levy in 1629. These excuses were advanced 
in England; the ambassador failed to contact anyone in Scotland to find 
out if there was a better chance of success there. The levy failed. In 1633 the 
English government prohibited taking men out of the country for foreign 
service unless they were recruits to keep existing regiments up to strength. 

The large levy in 1642 for service in France also ran into difficulties, 
producing in the Privy Council records of the by-now familiar resorts to 
impressing "idle persons" and handing over convicted criminals to the 
recruiters. The Council records also show, however, that the authorities 
were not undiscriminating: for example, when eleven men complained 
that they had been taken by force and thrown into prison "where they are 
yitt lying almost starving for want of maintenance and their wyves and 
children ar begging through the countrie", the Council sent officials to 
investigate with the result that five were set free and six were retained, 
the latter having been deemed to have freely volunteered. 64 There are also 
instances of landowners seeking the release of members of their workforce 
who had either volunteered or been inveigled into enlisting, an interesting 
point to which I shall return below. 

Conditions of service 

No written agreements or contracts covering the recruitment of the rank- 
and-file soldiers have been located during the research for this chapter, and 
it is possible they were rarely if at all used. Verbal agreements founded on 
the existing conditions of trust and hierarchy could be expected in clan 
societies with their strong oral cultures, but they were also probably the 
norm in other parts of the country. The correspondence and contracts that 
do survive relate to official sources and educated elites. 

The soldier serving abroad could usually hope for regular pay and the 
provision of food and clothing. These conditions appear to have been ac- 
cepted at the time as reasonably fair, although it is difficult to compare 
wages and prices in the various currencies of the day. Complaints and 

64 RPCS, 2nd series, VII, p. 450. 



dissension, amounting at times to mutiny, seem to have occurred only when 
pay and provisions were not issued when expected. In the late sixteenth 
century in Scotland, in one year a male farm servant could expect to earn 
from £1 6s 8d to £6, depending on skill and experience as well as regional 
variations. Rural wages were often supplemented with accommodation and 
some food but they seem very low when compared to what soldiers could 
hope for. The pay scale set by the Privy Council in 1586 for armed men to 
police the Borders ran from £20 a month for a horseman and £6 for a foot 
soldier to almost £70 and £50 respectively for their commanding captains. 65 

As an example of pay given to Scottish soldiers in Dutch service in the 
1570s, we have in the records totals paid out to commanding officers for the 
fourteen months between ljune 1573 and 31 July 1574. The largest sum went 
to Captain Baulfour (Balfour) - £8,015, the smallest to Colonel Ormeston 
- £50, with widely varying amounts to other officers, which presumably 
reflect the respective lengths of service and complements of men, as well 
as the costs of bringing recruits over the North Sea. 66 At the same time, 
under "pay", Colonel Ormeston received £500, and this seems to have been 
the going annual rate for a man of this rank. In October 1575, the salary of 
Henry Balfour, by this time a colonel, was set at 800 guilders per year by 
the Dutch authorities. In May 1577, Colonel Balfour received £6,000 Artois 
for his services, as a lump sum at the termination of his period of service; 
he was soon requested to return to the Low Countries when war broke out 
anew in October that year. 

In 1577 the Dutch laid down that "All captains [are] to pay their men 45 
stivers each, half monthly, while the engagement remains at 1,100 guilders 
monthly for 100 men." 67 A village worker's salary in the Low Countries at 
the time was around 200 guilders per year. 68 In 1579, the pay scale for a 
company of soldiers under the command of a Colonel William Stewart ran 
from 12 livres per month for the drummer, the lowest paid, through 16 for a 
corporal, 24 for a sergeant, 40 for an ensign, and 45 for a lieutenant, to 90 for 
the captain. 69 In September 1586 the authorities in Amsterdam were asked 
to pay to 150 Scottish soldiers who had newly arrived in the area 1 florin 
(1 guilder) per day to the captain, 10 patars (14 pence) to the lieutenant, 6 
patars each to the ensigns, sergeants, cadets, corporals, and clerk, and 3 

65 Ibid., IV, p. 111. 

66 Ferguson, The Scots Brigade in the Service of Denmark and Sweden, I, p. 36. 

67 Ibid. 

68 Israel, The Dutch Republic, p. 353. 

69 Ferguson, The Scots Brigade in the Service of Denmark and Sweden, I, p. 20. 



patars to the ordinary ranks. 70 The request to Henry Balfour to return to 
fight for the States General in the renewal of hostilities in October 1577 
included the remuneration (apparently per year) offered to him and his 
men: £500 for himself, £200 for his lieutenant, £100 for his sergeant major, 
£40 for the quartermaster and the provost, £16 for the halbardiers, and £12 
for the provost sergeants. 71 

An attractive feature of service in the Low Countries in the Dutch cause 
was that the widows and children of officers killed in action were given 
state pensions, amounts varying from 800 guilders per year awarded to the 
widow and son of Colonel Balfour in April 1581, to sums in 1610 of the order 
of £50 to £100 for each surviving relative. 72 

Costs forced the States General government of the United Provinces in 
the Low Countries to review the pay scales in 1587, when they dismissed 
companies they could not afford, asked officers against assurance of a 
final settlement in the future not to seek payment for arrears as long as 
the war continued, required soldiers to swear to accept a 48-day month 
(officers were given a 32-day month), and assigned garrisons to different 
provinces according to the province's ability to pay 73 The commission dated 
26 June 1588 to Colonel Bartholomew Balfour included the statement that 
his company of 200 men would receive "2,200 pounds, of 40 groats the 
pound, every 32 days, with the reservation that henceforward he shall 
content himself with these payments every 48 days. With this he and his 
subordinate officers and his soldiers, like others in the country's service, 
must content themselves." 74 A similar commission, dated 15 April 1593, to 
Captain Patrick Bruce commanding a company of lancers of 100 horses 
provides higher remuneration for mounted men - "his payment to be 3,000 
pounds per month of 32 days, the officers' salaries and horse fodder included 
therein, provided he shall take care to procure [...] all such payments out of 
said levies on the country districts of Flanders, the which he is to exact with 
all diligence and put in train, so that his pay beyond the present incomes 
can be escheat (or claimed) out of them; and he, the captain, his subordinate 
officers, and cavalry shall like others rest satisfied with receiving a month's 
pay every 48 days." 75 

70 Ibid., I, p. 77. 

71 RPCS, II, p. 641. 

72 Ferguson, The Scots Brigade in the Service of Denmark and Sweden, I, p. 226. 

73 Grimeston, A Generall Historie of the Netherlands, p. 890. 

74 Ferguson, The Scots Brigade in the Service of Denmark and Sweden, I, p. 85. 

75 Ibid., I, p. 92. 



The imposition of 32-day and 48-day months was not popular with the 
Scottish officers. In June 1588, three captains, named as Meurrey, Nysbeth, 
and Waddel, told a committee of the States General that they were willing to 
serve "but that they must have the means to make their soldiers willing and 
to satisfy them". 76 There ensued a round of negotiations that lasted several 
weeks, in which Colonel Balfour tried to win the best deal for his men but 
which ended with the discharge of some officers and the continuation of 
the 48-day month. 

The pay scale for men to be recruited for Swedish service by Sir Donald 
Mackay is set out in a letter of June 1629: 77 colonel - 300 riksdaler Swedish 
per month of 31 days; company captain - 100; lieutenant and ensign - 50; 
sergeant - 16; drummer or piper - 8; ordinary pikeman or musketeer - 6; 
scout and reserve - 5. The letter also sets out what would be expected of 
the mercenary: 

[Officers and men] participating in our adventures, shall not turn 
away from us in times of misfortunes, and as becometh such honour- 
able and brave cavaliers and soldiers, they shall always be ready 
cheerfully and indefatigably to venture body and life. 

There follows a list of the types of action in which the mercenary may 
expect to find himself- battles, skirmishes, watches, attacks, sieges, by day 
or night, on water or on land. The Swedish king undertook to provide a suf- 
ficient monthly allowance with a twice-yearly settlement of accounts. Pay 
would not be reduced but there would be deductions for careless damage 
or breakage. The rate of exchange at the time is revealed in the articles of 
an agreement drawn up between Sir James Spens and Alexander Hamilton 
in April 1629 for the raising of 1,200 men, as mentioned earlier. The rewards 
for senior officers could be very high and come in the form of grants of land 
and hereditary titles among the nobility as well as in payments of money, 
although only a few men benefited in this way. 

For most soldiers the regularity with which they received their pay, 
food, and clothing was a major factor in keeping up their morale, and the 
reputations of commanders often rested on their performance in this regard. 
On long campaigns across great distances, the systems of victualling and 
payment could easily break down, and even Gustavus Adolphus, generally 
a reliable payer, had to deal with threats of mutiny from time to time. Some 

76 Ibid., I, p.98. 

77 Fischer, The Scots in Germany, p. 280. 



mercenary commanders made no special arrangements for the support of 
their men and expected them to forage and plunder, practices that naturally 
visited misery on civilians and brought the reputation of the soldier to the 
level of the thief or rapist. 

By the standards of the time, the Dutch were good at maintaining regular 
payment of salaries, although, as we have seen, there were still occasions 
when the soldiers were stirred to complain. The conscientious paymaster 
was always aware that the loyalty of a mercenary could be severely tested 
by a breakdown in pay, an eventuality that could easily occur when an 
army was in the field. The provision of clothing appears to have been very 
important for the attraction of recruits and the morale of the newly formed 
contingents. In 1627 Lord Ogilvie noted that his recruits would not "imbark 
with good will except they get thair clothes" and realized how important 
this was: "it does mutch good, and incurages many, quhen they sie the 
soldieris weill used, and speciall quhen they sie them passe throch the 
cuntrey weill apperelled". 78 Robert Monro records that the men in Mackay's 
Regiment were issued with clothing and muster money after they had ar- 
rived in Holstein from Scotland to join the king of Denmark's forces, and 
briefly described how the officers refused to wear the Danish cross with 
their Scottish colours, a short-lived instance of ethnic loyalty that was 
dispelled when Kingjames VI's officials told them to obey who was paying 
them "in a matter so indifferent". 79 After six months of training and what 
Monro describes as getting in good order, the regiment was inspected by the 
king, took an oath of fidelity and heard the articles of war read, completing 
a comparatively well-organized and measured initiation that may have 
been far from typical of the mercenary experience. 

Mention of duration of service seems to be missing from what we know 
of the contractual arrangements for the rank and file. It seems to have been 
customary for a soldier to serve as long as he was fit and the continuation 
of hostilities required his presence, his time ending when successful peace 
negotiations brought about disbandment. 

Conditions of service related mainly to the active soldier. As mentioned, 
the States General in the Low Countries provided pensions for the widows 
and offspring of officers but this was not true of every employer. The 
conditions offered by Gustavus Adolphus to Sir Donald Mackay included 
provision for the care of wounded and disabled men: "we shall provide a 
temporary home for them in our own dominions, but should they prefer 

78 Fallon, "Scottish Mercenaries", p. 159. 

79 Monro, Monro His Expedition with the Worthy Scots Regiment, p. 2. 



going beyond our kingdom a month's pay shall be given to each". 80 Evidence 
is very hard to obtain as to what really happened to the ordinary soldier in 
the ranks when he became too old to continue or had to retire from active 
duty through injury. A few seem to have found a role behind the lines as 
cooks or orderlies; many may have been forced to resort to begging or a 
scrape-by existence in some menial occupation. We know from anecdotal 
evidence - the mention of veterans in later contexts - that some of the Scots 
found their way home from mainland Europe, likely taking advantage of the 
Swedish offer of a month's pay but no figures on this are readily available. 
On his return to Britain in 1633, Robert Monro launched a venture to provide 
a hospital for wounded veterans. 81 

The response of the enlisted man to the conditions of service seems to 
have been generally one of acceptance, unsurprising in view of the options 
open to them once they had enlisted. The soldiers keenly perceived unfair- 
ness in treatment. Sir Donald Mackay sought more money from the Danish 
authorities for his men when they protested that English units in the same 
army were being paid in a different manner. As Robert Monro put it - "It is 
a hard matter when the diligent and industrious Souldier is disappointed of 
his hire, and that he is rewarded with injury who did merit better." 82 Diligent 
officers in the field during the Thirty Years War were often exercised in 
maintaining the payment and hence the morale of their units. 

At the last resort, the aggrieved soldier could always withdraw his 
service. A simple refusal to obey orders and mutiny, although this was an 
ultimately disastrous step, was made easier in the period under study by 
the accepted custom that defeated troops could switch sides and join the 
army of the victor. With the mercenary, loyalty was usually to comrade 
and commander rather than to country. Of his service with the Swedish 
army in northern Germany in the 1630s, James Turner commented in his 
memoirs: "I had swallowed without chewing, in Germanie, a very dangerous 
maxime, which militarie men there too much follow; which was, that so 
we serve our master honestlie, it is no matter what master we serve." 83 In 
the 1570S-1580S in the Low Countries, when sieges of towns were common, 
a besieged garrison whose pay had fallen into arrears was often open to 
negotiation and surrender. 

80 Fischer, The Scots in Germany, p. 281. 

81 RPCS, 2nd series, V, p. 353. 

82 Monro, Monro His Expedition with the Worthy Scots Regiment, p. 196. 

83 Turner, Memoirs of His Own Life and Times, p. 14. 



Back home 

One of the most difficult aspects of this subject to explore is the effects mer- 
cenary service had on the society from which the soldiers came. Although 
the removal of a significant number of active men from the population 
must have had some consequences, there seems to be a complete lack of 
evidence for a shortage of manpower in normal homeland socio-economic 
life. In times of dearth such a shortage may have been a blessing but this 
would have been a short-term benefit. The loss of manpower may well have 
been one reason for increasing resistance to recruitment and may have 
contributed, for example, to the Aberdeenshire laird's tenants resisting the 
efforts of Robert Innes of Cotts to recruit their sons and servants. 

In 1635, the Privy Council became so concerned over the amount of 
foreign "dollars [sic]" in circulation in the country, leading to fraud and a 
devaluation of the currency, that they passed in August an act allowing 
traders to use only domestic money for transactions and followed this in 
February 1636 with an act prohibiting the importation of amounts greater 
than 56s. 84 The continental currency could well have been brought by 
returning veterans. 

By 1650 there must have accumulated in Scotland a pool of men with 
military experience, men who had served abroad and found their way home 
again. At least, this seems to be implied by the petition in November 1641 
by Alexander Lord Forbes to the London Parliament stating "there are 
many soldiers desirous of employment [...] Your Petitioner having formerly 
engaged in foreign wars desires that he may have leave to entreat such of 
the officers and soldiers as shall not be any longer employed here and will 
willingly put themselves under his command in the service of any foreign 
prince." 85 

Events within Britain were soon to provide plenty of opportunity for the 
man with military training. Growing political tension in Scotland led to 
the military confrontation of the First Bishops' War in June 1639. This was 
followed by further hostilities in 1640 and a gradual worsening of affairs 
until full-scale civil war broke out in England in 1642. Many of the Scottish 
mercenaries found their way home from the continent to fight, where their 
experience served them well. After the mid-century, although individual 
soldiers and officers still found places in continental armies, the raising 
of troops on any scale for the service of foreign powers became a memory. 

84 RPCS, 2nd series, VI, p. xvii. 

85 Tayler and Tayler, House of Forbes, p. 195. 



Military service in transition 

In the first part of this chapter, I put forward a number of factors as deter- 
mining the movement of mercenary soldiers from Scotland to continental 
Europe between 1550 and 1650. These factors are: a tradition of emigration 
in general, and previous experience of armed service in continental Europe, 
especially in France; socio-economic hardship at home; domestic military 
custom; the attitudes of the leading members of society to a military life; 
and new opportunities for armed service in continental Europe after the 
Reformation. This expansion of military service abroad as a feature of 
Scottish society can be seen in labour terms as the response to a growth 
in demand for a particular skill in a population where other opportunities 
for making a living were constrained in several ways. 

Men with basic fighting skills and experience in handling weapons could 
be found throughout the country. In the Borders and the Highlands, cattle 
reiving and clan feuds provided experience in campaigning over rough 
country, but even in the more settled Lowland areas the nobles maintained 
bands of armed men in their own service; among the mass of peasants and 
townsmen the wappenschaw system ensured that experience in handling 
weapons was normal. The custom of raising a host or army whenever an 
armed force was needed for national defence or security also kept alive the 
practices of military service. 

Economic hardship at home, experience with weapons and armed ser- 
vice, and existing emigration pathways to the continent were three strong 
"push" factors in encouraging men to look abroad. This was combined with 
a strong "pull" factor, the attitude of the nobility and the landowning classes 
to military service and their enthusiasm for "seeking fortune in the field". 
Recruitment for overseas service was also encouraged from time to time by 
government for several reasons: as a way of coping with food shortages, as a 
way to get rid of social undesirables, and as an instrument of foreign policy. 
When mercenary activity by Scots may have had a negative effect on foreign 
relations, the government took steps to curtail or prevent it, for example, 
by issuing recruiting licences or, in the case of the Ramsay recruitment in 
1612, by seeking to suppress it completely. 

It is also useful to see the phenomenon in terms of the work options that 
were open to a young man at the time. There was a high degree of hereditary 
employment, with the son of the merchant, tradesman, or labourer generally 
following in his father's footsteps to earn a livelihood. This did not militate 
against some upward mobility but the absence of widespread, accessible 
education meant that only a few young people were given the opportunity 



to attend any classes and benefit from formal tuition outside the family. 
Talented youngsters were probably spotted and encouraged, especially after 
the Reformation when a great need for new clergy arose, but this route of 
advancement lay open only to a relative few. Among the landowning classes, 
only the eldest son could hope to inherit an estate. Military service of some 
kind became, therefore, a real career option for many young men, especially 
when, as Major commented, a positive attitude to military service existed 
among farmers who scorned trades. To an extent, rural men shared the 
outlook of their social superiors and may have enlisted willingly, an attitude 
most likely to be prevalent in clan society and to have been an important 
factor in the comparatively rapid recruitment of Mackay's Regiment in 1626. 

It is possible that some labourers, urban as well as rural, saw enlisting 
as a soldier as a means of escape from the restricted life on offer at home 
and surrendered to the lure of adventure in preference to tedium and 
familiarity. For those who were fugitives from justice, answering the call 
of the recruiting officer was an obvious way to evade arrest and a grim 
fate, and was probably a gamble worth taking, but even for men who had 
committed no wrong the prospect of soldiering may have been seen as an 
opportunity. The General Assembly of the Church of Scotland that came 
into existence with the Reformation after 1560 spoke against the oppression 
of poor tenants, although it failed to do much to ease their plight. 86 In the 
burghs only merchants and craftsmen enjoyed the privileges that came 
with burgess status; all the other inhabitants, the majority that included 
servants, journeymen, labourers, and the poor, were called "unfree" and 
had no say in local affairs. As the seventeenth century wore on, conditions 
almost akin to serfdom were imposed on the labour force in the small coal- 
mining and salt-panning industries around the Firth of Forth. 87 Exchanging 
the constraints of civilian life in such circumstances for the discipline of 
an army, which at least offered the prospect of regular food, shelter, and 
comradeship, may have been a relatively easy decision to make. When some 
masters complained that their servants had been seized by recruiters and 
sought to have them released, the servants may not always have been so 
keen to return to civilian servitude. It seems that enlisting did not neces- 
sarily take the soldier away from some kind of family life, as in July 1581 the 
Privy Council complained that the women following the troops abroad were 

86 Smout, A History of the Scottish People, p. 85. 

87 Ibid., p. 168. 



bringing dishonour on the country and called on ship captains to allow only 
legitimate wives of good repute to embark with the soldiers. 88 

Determining where the Scottish mercenary contingents fall on the 
axis of free/ unfree labour must take account of the clear distinctions 
between officers and men in the conditions of service. Officers were seen 
as professionals and were free to resign a commission, the most famous 
and exceptional example of this being the resignation of Sir John Hepburn 
from the Swedish army in 1632 after a perceived insult and a quarrel with 
Gustavus Adolphus. 89 Sir John was, of course, a senior commander; a more 
junior officer may not have felt so free to take such an independent course. 
The rank and file were unfree in the sense that they were expected to stay 
in service once enlisted, and were subject to laws on desertion. 

With regard to the classification of labour relations used by the IISH, the 
Scottish mercenary soldier appears to accord with more than one category, 
depending on his individual status. The conscripted and pressed men in the 
contingents recruited in the Lowlands fit the definition of forced tributary 
labour. As well as receiving pay, they were paid partly in kind with food and 
clothing. With recruits who volunteered, the definition of labour relations 
becomes a little more complicated. In effect they were exchanging one form 
of labour relationship for another. For those who belonged to the "unfree" 
section of society, willingly leaving self-employment as a tradesman or 
employment as a labourer to become a soldier was surrendering a degree 
of personal independence for indentured tributary labour, but in times of 
economic hardship the gains could well have been seen as outweighing 
the drawbacks. Some volunteers from the burgess or landowner classes 
exchanged a non-working status for soldiering. An example here is James 
Turner who, in his own memoir, describes how as a student, aged eighteen, 
studying history and religious philosophy, he responded to "a restless desire 
[...] to be, if not an actor, at least a spectator of these warrs which at that 
time made so much noyse", and enlisted in Sir James Lumsden's regiment 
bound for Rostock in 1632. 90 Robert Monro, the laird of Foulis in Easter Ross, 
volunteered to join Mackay's Regiment to escape from domestic difficulties: 
deep in debt, he engaged his estate revenues to his creditors for ten years 
and went off to be a military officer. 91 

88 RPCS, III, p. 399. 

89 Grant, Memoirs and Adventures of Sir John Hepburn, p. 182. 

90 Turner, Memoirs of His Own Life and Times, p. 3. 

91 Monro, Monro His Expedition with the Worthy Scots Regiment, p. 3. 



The professional soldier, and in the context of this study, this usually 
means someone of officer rank, was much more a self-employed individual 
free to accept a commission and, as circumstances permitted, move from one 
employer to another. With their enlistment in the military ranks, mercenar- 
ies from the Highlands, where clan society prevailed, and from among the 
Borders kindreds can be seen as moving from a status of reciprocal labour, 
whether household- or community-based, or tributary labour to indentured 
employment. In the case of Mackay's Regiment, one can argue that Sir Don- 
ald Mackay saw the possibility of exploiting clan ties to find an honourable 
way out of personal constraints at home, taking it on himself to "offer" men, 
for whom he was their natural leader, to the service of others. In doing so, 
he was pioneering the exploitation of the clan system that the British state 
deployed from the latter half of the eighteenth century to furnish its army 
with men. The Scottish host, as raised by the government for a national cause, 
and expected to serve without pay for a fixed number of days, was a form of 
tributary serf labour, a development from the feudal hosts of past centuries. 

Scottish mercenaries, therefore, came from a variety of backgrounds 
to reach the status of paid soldier, transitions driven in the period under 
study, as we have seen, by a growth in overseas demand for soldiers against 
a background of socio-economic hardship at home, with ideological fac- 
tors, principally motivations arising from the post-Reformation hostility 
between Protestant and Catholic, playing a subsidiary part. The period 
saw the transformation of the men who in an earlier generation would 
have comprised the post-feudal forces of the Scottish host and the armed 
followers of regional and clan leaders into the elements of an aggregate 
contract army. Some of those who survived the fighting in Europe and 
returned to Scotland then became members of armies commissioned by 
the contesting forces in the civil wars in the British Isles, armies which were 
soon to be transformed once again into the forces of the state and the early 
modern conscript army. In this context, it is significant that a connecting 
thread can be traced from Sir John Hepburn's recruitment for France in 1633 
and the British line regiment, the Royal Regiment of Foot, more popularly 
known as the Royal Scots, that was designated in 1684. 

Change and continuity in mercenary 
armies: Central Europe, 1650-1750 

Michael Sikora 

The second half of the seventeenth century saw significant changes in the 
structures of the most important military organizations on the European 
continent. Collectively, these changes are commonly labelled as the intro- 
duction of standing armies. These changes certainly had a deep impact on 
the terms as well as the conditions of military labour. However, it needs to be 
discussed whether these developments should be understood as a categori- 
cal transformation, putting military labour in a typological framework of 
its own, or whether it would be more appropriate to stress the aspects of 
continuity and to embed these aspects of change in a more evolutionary 
interpretative framework. This chapter will argue that several changes of 
particular importance altered the face of military labour so that it hardly 
could be equated with the classical era of mercenaries in the sixteenth 
and early seventeenth centuries. Nevertheless, the components were still 
tied to various traditions and did not constitute a completely innovative 
system that could be compared with the later transformations initiated by 
the French Revolution - though even the revolutionaries, of course, could 
not avoid being based on existing forms of military institutions. 

In accordance with the objectives of the Fighting for a Living project, 
this chapter will initially outline the current state of research. Particular 
attention will be given to the modes of recruitment, which not only can be 
considered crucial criteria for categorizing the type of military labour but 
which also developed significant variations during the era under discussion 
here. The second part of the chapter will discuss and reassess the empirical 
findings in the framework of some more general categories related to the 
typology and dynamics of military labour. 

The most obvious expression of these changes was not inevitably con- 
nected with the principles of standing armies and consisted simply of 
significant growth in the size of many armies. At the forefront of these 
developments was the French army, which established new levels for the 
military strength of a leading power within the European concert. Some 
figures will illustrate the extent of growth. Of course, it is impossible to 
determine exact numbers; due to the lack of sources as well as discrepan- 
cies between normative prescriptions, a limited range of records, and the 



presumed reality, the numbers are the result of more or less rough estimates 
and ongoing discussions. Therefore they cannot offer more than an impres- 
sion of the quantitative aspect of armies. 

During the Thirty Years War, France may have mobilized at the most 
around 125,000 troops, desperately exploiting all resources. Several decades 
later, around 1695, the strength of the French army may have peaked at 
close to 340,000 troops. 1 A comparison of peacetime statistics is no less 
informative. At the beginning of the seventeenth century the French king 
was already keeping a few thousand men under arms. However, around 
1680 - admittedly only in a short peacetime interlude in France's struggle 
for hegemony - the army probably consisted of around 150,000 soldiers, 
significantly more than during the Thirty Years War only four decades 

These numbers certainly give some impression of the strength of the 
most powerful army during this period. However, during the eighteenth 
century, one may say that obtaining or retaining the status of a leading 
power required the maintenance of more than 100,000 soldiers in peacetime 
and the mobilization of at least 150,000 soldiers during war. Such were the 
levels of mobilization attained by the rulers of Austria 2 and Prussia 3 during 
the Silesian Wars in the middle of the eighteenth century, representing 
a significant augmentation of their strength compared to the first half 
of the seventeenth century. Though the figures still oscillated within a 
certain range and tended to grow, these benchmarks were not exceeded 
significantly until the levee en masse of the French Revolution marked 
another quantum increase in levels of mobilization. 

To get an idea of the overall level of military mobilization in central Eu- 
rope, one would have to include the forces of several medium-sized powers, 
including the Netherlands 4 and some Italian states, as well as some princely 

1 Lynn, Giant of the Grand Steele, pp. 41-58, includes some critical reflections on the relation- 
ship between the numbers derived from several archived lists and the real strength of the 
armies in the field. The precision of the methodology employed should cause some concern 
about comparing these numbers with other, less carefully derived figures. 

2 See Hochedlinger, Austria's Wars of Emergence 7683-rygy, pp. 98-104, 234-237, 297-303. 

3 Probably the most reliable data can be found injany, Geschichte der Koniglich Preufiischen 
Armee bis zum fahr 7807, I, pp. 8, 76, 83ff, 195-196, 387, III, pp. 12-13, i6off., 186 ff, 37off, 435ff. 

4 Van Nimwegen, The Dutch Army and the Military Revolutions; for a very basic overview, 
including some overall figures, see van Nimwegen, "The Transformation of Army Organisation 
in Early-Modern Western Europe", pp. 172-178. 



territories within the Holy Roman Empire, 5 such as Bavaria, Hesse-Cassel, 6 
or Saxony. 7 However, the relationship between the strength of the army and 
the total population (the so-called military participation ratio) also varied 
markedly. France benefited from the extent of its territories and the size 
of its population, which resulted, according to estimations of the time, in a 
ratio of the army's strength in relation to the whole population of around 1 
to 140. In contrast, Prussian military strength was based on a territory not 
half as big as France with an even smaller population density, so that the 
ratio was around 1 to 32. In the second half of the eighteenth century even 
this was exceeded by the military of Hesse-Cassel, reaching a ratio of 1 
soldier to 15 civilians. 8 Of course, these figures are hard to verify 9 and raise 
some difficulties of interpretation, which cannot be fully investigated here. 

Observations: recruitment 

As a result of these developments the demand for recruits increased dra- 
matically. Indeed, the growth in absolute numbers was exacerbated by the 
continuous need for replacements in order to maintain the permanent exist- 
ence of the armies. To be sure, the need for fresh recruits was unceasing, but 
reached significant peaks when rulers decided to start a military build-up, 
when new troops were raised in anticipation of a military confrontation 
or, even worse, when during war the losses had to be replaced as quickly 

5 Numbers can be found in Wilson, German Armies; mostly, however, they do not relate to 
general strengths but to wartime strength of territorial contingents deployed as auxiliaries or 
parts of the composite Reichsarmee. It is noteworthy that even some of the rather autonomous 
imperial cities maintained their own military, which will not be included here, due to their 
small numbers and special circumstances; see Schwark, Lubecks Stadtmititdr im 77. unci 78. 
Jahrhundert; Kraus, Das Militdrwesen der Reichsstadt Augsburg; Ehlers, Die Wehrverfassung 
der Stadt Hamburg im 77. und 7 8. Jahrhundert. 

6 Ingrao, The Hessian Mercenary State; see Taylor, Indentured to Liberty; for a recent overview, 
though focused on early seventeenth-century militia, but with far-reaching considerations, see 
Graf "Landesdefension oder'Fundamentalmilitarisierung'?" 

7 Kroll, Soldaten im 78. Jahrhundert zwischen Friedensalltag und Kriegserfahrung; for a 
compilation of several older figures on the Saxon army, see pp. 70-73. 

8 Ingrao, The Hessian Mercenary State, pp. 132-135. 

9 The numbers are based on a list from the end of the eighteenth century, which can be found 
injohann Georg Kriinitz, Oeconomische Encyclopaedic, L (Berlin, 1790) (http://www.kruenitzi., pp. 746-755; the list, as part of the entry "Kriegs-Heer", covers all of Europe, 
including a large number of territories of the Holy Roman Empire, and relates numbers of army 
strength to the population. 



as possible. Therefore the business of recruitment met challenges of a new 
dimension, too. In fact, methods of recruitment changed significantly. 

The most important mode of recruitment remained voluntary enlist- 
ment. This had been a well-established practice since mercenary service 
had become dominant in the later Middle Ages and had marginalized the 
feudal military service of the nobility. 10 A significant aspect of this prac- 
tice had been the fact that it did not really matter where the mercenaries 
came from. At one time, in the first half of the sixteenth century, the most 
reputable soldiers originated in Switzerland 11 or, in the case of the so-called 
Landsknechte, from the south-western region of the Holy Roman Empire. 12 
Other mercenaries, such as the Irish 13 and the Scots, 14 came from peripheral 
regions of Europe, while still other elements of the armies, even in the 
sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, were also recruited either in the 
ruler's territories or simply around the theatre of war. Such a composition 
gave parts of the armies a significant multi-cultural appearance. 

On the other hand, the growth of the armies and, probably even more 
importantly, their enduring institutionalization in peacetime implied a 
stronger focus on the state's own population. While precise comparisons 
are difficult to determine and have to take account of differing local 
circumstances, the importance of foreign recruits seemingly decreased 
in armies such as the French 15 or the Austrian, 16 where they dropped as a 
proportion of the total to below 20 per cent. Recruiting beyond the state's 
borders, however, continued to be a common practice. In this respect, 
France maintained a special relationship with the Swiss cantons by extend- 
ing traditional treaties that provided fixed numbers of Swiss recruits for 

10 Mallett, Mercenaries and Their Masters; Redlich, The German Military Enterpriser and His 
Work Force. 

11 However, exclusive contracts mostly tied Swiss recruitment to French service; see as an 
overview Bodin, Les Suisses au service de la France. Swiss research on mercenary services is 
mostly focused on its social impact in Switzerland itself; see several contributions in Fuhrer et 
at, Schweizer in "Fremden Diesnten", though it mostly refers to older works, and Gente ferocis- 
sima; Kiing, Glanz und Elend der Sbldner; Biihrer, Der Ziircher Solddienst des 78. Jahrhunderts; 
Schaufelberger, "Von der Kriegsgeschichte zur Militargeschichte"; Schaufelberger, Der alte 
Schweizer und sein Krieg. Many authors also still refer to Peyer, "Die wirtschaftliche Bedeutung 
der fremden Dienste fur die Schweiz". 

12 Baumann, Landsknechte. 

13 Stradling, The Spanish Monarchy and Irish Mercenaries; Murtagh, "Irish Soldiers Abroad, 
1600-1800"; O'Reilly, "The Irish Mercenary Tradition in the 1600s". 

14 Miller, Swords for Hire; several contributions inMurdoch, Scotland and the Thirty Years War. 

15 Corvisier, L'armeefrangaise de la fin du XVIIe siecle au ministere de Choiseul, I, pp. 55, i57f; 
Lynn, Giant of the Grand Siecle, pp. 33if. 

16 Duffy, The Army of Maria Theresa, p. 47. 


the French army, hired by the local authorities in Switzerland themselves. 
The Swiss were organized in separate units, which were retained during the 
entire eighteenth century, and they remained loyal until the last ones were 
massacred defending the French king against the Parisian revolutionaries 
in front of the Tuileries on 10 August 1792. 

Even the individual enlistment of foreigners remained possible in the 
French army. The Austrian army profited from some scattered Habsburg 
possessions in southern Germany where recruiters had easy access to minor 
territories in the region. 17 Along with Switzerland, the highly fragmented 
political landscape in southern Germany had provided one of Europe's most 
important soldier-markets since the heyday of the Landsknechte. This was 
even more important for Prussia when it entered the league of Europe's lead- 
ing powers in the first half of the eighteenth century. Due to its relatively 
small population, the Prussian military build-up depended to a considerable 
extent on foreign recruitment. 18 The proportion of recruits from beyond the 
borders of Prussia may have accounted for around one-third of the army, 
and Frederick the Great even tried to increase their numbers. 19 Although the 
standing armies tended to become more homogeneous than before - further 
evidence for this will be discussed below - and since different armies had 
to deal with different conditions, recruitment continued to disregard the 
origins of the recruits. The concern with the quantity of recruits overrode 
any other considerations. 

This was all the more true since growing armies altered the conditions 
of recruitment in another important regard. As far as we know, recruit- 
ment did not meet serious problems during the heyday of mercenaries in 
the sixteenth century. 20 Things changed during the seventeenth century, 
starting with the Thirty Years War, and these were later enforced by the 

17 A very close-up and colourful view of the everyday business of foreign recruitment in a 
southern German imperial city is offered by Schiissler, "Das Werbewesen in der Reichsstadt 
Heilbronn"; unfortunately only very few carbon copies of this work exist. The subject is cov- 
ered fundamentally by Wilson, "The Politics of Military Recruitment in Eighteenth-Century 
Germany". See also, from a more juridical perspective, von Rosenberg, Soldatenwerbung unci 
militdrisches Durchzugsrecht im Zeitalter des Absotutismusdor concrete examples, see pp. i04ff, 
i34ff; Heuel, Werbungen in der Reichsstadt Koln 7700-7750. 

18 Gugger, Preujiische Werbungen in der Eidgenossenschaft im 78. Jahrhundert; Sicken, "Die 
preuKische Werbung in Franken"; Jany, Geschichte der Koniglich Preufiischen Armee bis zum 
Jahr 7807; von Schultz, Die preufiischen Werbungen unter Friedrich Wilhelm I. undFriedrich dem 

19 Jany, Geschichte der Koniglich Preufiischen Armee bis zum Jahr 7807, II, pp. 236ff, III, pp. 50, 
i84ff., 435f- 

20 Burschel, Soldner im Nordwestdeutschland des 76. und77. Jahrhunderts, pp. 97f. 



changes outlined above. Obviously, it became more and more difficult 
to motivate enough volunteers to join the army; at least, historians have 
revealed an increasing number of complaints about recruitment abuses in 
the records. 21 In fact, recruitment involving the use or threat of violence, 
or the condemnation of delinquents to military service, seemed to become 
characteristic of this period of military history. 

Some corrections or nuancing of this image are certainly necessary. First 
of all, one has to consider a certain bias inherent within the primary sources. 
While abuses were very likely to initiate resistance and formal complaints, 
and therefore the production of archival sources, a routine performed 
without opposition tends to be invisible to the historian. Accordingly, it 
is impossible to obtain a definitive record of the relative proportions of 
voluntary and enforced enlistment. 22 Certainly the assumption that armies 
worked with large percentages of forced recruits seems to be unrealistic, 
though one should not underestimate either the impact of military disci- 
pline even on forced soldiers, which will be discussed below, nor the range 
of possible motivations for truly voluntary enlistments. 

Secondly, involuntary enlistment took very different forms. Of course, a 
large number of examples of forced recruitment exist. For example, many 
of them concern Prussian recruitment in the duchy of Mecklenburg in 
the first half of the eighteenth century. 23 Obviously the Prussian military 
profited from internal struggles in the duchy and from its defencelessness 
against its already rather powerful neighbour. Typically, however, most of 
these examples took place during the period in which the Prussian king, 
Frederick William I, the so-called Soldatenkdnig, implemented a strong 
military build-up by doubling the number of Prussian soldiers, so these ex- 
amples cannot be considered representative of the usual practice of Prussian 
recruitment in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries without broader 

21 See Sikora, Disziplin unci Desertion, pp. 221-226; Burschel, Soldner im Nordwestdeutschland 
desi6. undij.Jahrhunderts, pp. 104-108; Redlich, The German MUitary Enterpriser and His Work 
Force, II, pp. 173-181; von Schultz, Die preujiischen Werbungen unter Friedrich Wilhelm I. und 
Friedrich dem Grojien. For a collection of abstracts from Westphalian sources on Prussian 
recruitment, including documents on the Mdrkischen Aufstand, a local uprising against forced 
recruitment in 1720, see Kloosterhuis, Bauern, Burger und Soldaten, I, pp. 23-46. 

22 See Prove, Stehendes Heer und stadtische Gesellschaft imiS.Jahrhundert, pp. 42f; in addition 
to some reports on recruitment abuses, Prove offers data for one regiment, comparing the 
number of recruits during two peacetime decades with the number of official complaints in 
the local records, which suggests a ratio of only 5 per cent of irregular recruitments; of course, 
the example is small and the number of complaints might not be complete. 

23 See von Schultz, Die preujiischen Werbungen unter Friedrich Wilhetml. und Friedrich dem 


research. The same thing seems to be true for the use of military service 
as a means of social discipline by forcing vagrants and delinquents into 
the army. Although there were examples for this in continental armies, 24 
and although such examples severely damaged the image of the military 
in public discourse, these practices did not contribute significantly to 
recruitment overall. 

On the other hand, involuntary enlistment did not always involve the 
use of violence. It seems to have been far more widespread for young men 
to be lured into military service by tricks and traps. 25 For example, some 
signed up in taverns after being plied with alcohol; others were dazzled by 
unfulfilled promises or high, one-off payments for enlistment; while yet 
others accepted gifts only to be told subsequently that these represented a 
signing-on fee and that they were now enlisted. Moreover, even when there 
was no trickery involved, we should recognize that many men probably went 
into the army because of poverty or to escape some acute economic crisis. 26 
Although volunteers in a formal sense, they did not join the military with 
real enthusiasm. Therefore, even considering that forcible impressment 
probably did not represent the norm, non-violent enlistments should not 
automatically be regarded as being wholly unforced. In any event, the great 
efforts made by governments to recruit soldiers and the undeniable abuses 
that this involved underline the fact that the growth of military organiza- 
tions strained the reservoir of potential recruits and pushed the traditional 
methods of recruitment to their limits. 

In response, rulers tried to expand or to develop alternative ways of 
recruiting. The options, however, were rather limited, too. Leading powers 
with large resources at their disposal could participate in what was later 

24 See Kroll, Soldaten im 7&.]ahrhundertzwischenFriedensalltag undKriegserfahrung, pp. 95-98; 
Burschel, Soldner im Nordwestdeutschland des 76. undij.Jahrhunderts, pp. 94f. Sikora, Disziplin 
und Desertion, pp. 229-232, also refers to some critics of the time, who were worried about the bad 
influence of such recruits on discipline and the reputation of the military. For some reflections 
on the juridical debate, see Fichte, Die Begriindung des Militardienstverhaltnisses, pp. 129-135. 
In a literal sense, defectors from the opposing army were considered offenders, too, but their 
incorporation into one's own army was quite a common practice. 

25 Sikora, Disziplin und Desertion, pp. 226f; Burschel, Soldner im Nordwestdeutschland des 76. 
und7j.Jahrhunderts, pp. 65, losff; for these practices as a subject of popular literature, see the 
anonymous booki/sf- und lustige Begebenheiten deren Herren Cfficiers aufWerbungen. 

26 Kroll, Soldaten im 78.Jahrhundertzwischen Friedensalltag undKriegserfahrung, pp. 92, 164, 
Prove, StehendesHeerundstddtische Gesellschaft im78.Jahrhundert, p. 37, and Burschel, Soldner 
im Nordwestdeutschland des 76. und 7j.Jahrhunderts, pp. 54-87, all discuss the high proportion 
of recruits from the lower classes of the population, notjust in the eighteenth century. 



called the soldier-trade. 27 Britain was the most important client, but France 
and others also took part in this practice. In short, minor princes, mostly 
from the Holy Roman Empire, provided troops in exchange for money 
or so-called subsidies. This practice gained a bad reputation in the late 
eighteenth century when German princes abandoned their subjects to an 
uncertain fate by sending them overseas, seemingly motivated by financial 
interests alone. It attracted even more criticism as such soldiers, perceived 
as victims of tyrannical arbitrariness, were engaged to fight in the American 

In fact, this way of increasing military power was already widespread 
in the seventeenth century. From a more formal view, such treaties can 
be considered a sort of alliance between rather unequal partners. While 
from the perspective of the major power, the business of recruitment could 
in a way be farmed out, the minor partner could hope to defend its own 
interests by gaining the support of a major player. In the late seventeenth 
century even Prussia, not yet a major player, transferred its own troops to 
foreign command in exchange for subsidies. 28 The impressive enlargement 
of the Prussian army under Frederick William I was mostly motivated by 
experiences of dependency and unfulfilled promises. 

In the context of the subject to be discussed here, the so-called soldier- 
trade further developed pre-existing mechanisms for foreign recruitment, 
but exacerbated the need for recruits on the part of the contractor. Even for 
the client it did not offer a principal solution since this option could only 
be used for a certain time, usually in case of crisis or war. Typically it was 
more attractive for Britain than for the continental states because these 
troops could not contribute to the permanent strength of a standing army. 
Thus, the soldier-trade did not constitute a new principle of recruitment: 
it merely exported the problems inherent within the existing system by 
outsourcing them to others. 

The only human resource rulers could unquestionably mobilize came from 
the population of their own territories. Intensifying recruitment therefore 
inevitably focused on the domestic population and accordingly contributed 
to the increasingly homogeneous composition of armies. In general, mobiliza- 
tion of the domestic population was undertaken in two ways. One approach 

27 See, for this and the following paragraph, a recent summary and discussion of a long 
debate, with much further reading, Wilson, "The German 'Soldier Trade' of the Seventeenth 
and Eighteenth Centuries"; the most recent contribution, focusing on the everyday life of hired 
soldiers, is Huck, Soldaten gegen Nordamerika. 

28 Seejany, Geschichte der Koniglich Preufiischen Armee bis zumjahr 7807, 1, pp. 388ff. 


was to involve local authorities in the struggle for voluntary enlistments, 
either by supporting the recruiting officers or by obliging the authorities to 
deliver recruits themselves.* 9 Experiences with this option seem to have been 
variable. When required to meet target numbers of recruits, civil officials 
tended to avoid confrontations with the local elites by focusing on vagrants, 
delinquents, or any outsiders regardless of their physical condition. However, 
it did not necessarily provide the military with capable soldiers; this could 
generally be better achieved by leaving recruitment in the hands of those 
officers who would have to deal with the recruits afterwards. 

In addition to these alterations to the established recruiting system, 
several rulers tried to make use of the personal obligation of their subjects to 
perform military service. From a typological point of view this policy must 
be understood as being completely different from voluntary enlistment. 
From a historical point of view this policy could connect with old but rather 
vague traditions. The duty of collective resistance against aggressors was 
deeply rooted in European societies, but it had not only been whittled down 
to times of emergency, but was also based on a much smaller geographical 
unit than the whole territory, linked as it was to local feudal structures and 
to urban 30 or rural 31 municipalities. In the case of a general levy decreed by 
the ruler to defend the whole territory, a rather mixed type of military force 
could emerge from these structures. 32 In addition to the noblemen following 
their feudal obligations, there were rural levies from the noble lands as 
well as from the ruler's personal estates, organized by the villages and 
court districts, together with contingents from the fortified towns, based 
on their own local defence systems. These towns gained a special strategic 
importance due to their walls, often connected with a certain degree of 
political and military autonomy. The participation of townsmen in defence 
of their municipalities, though not generally of much military significance, 
can be traced into the seventeenth and even eighteenth centuries. 33 

29 For Austria, see Hochedlinger, "Rekrutierung- Militarisierung- Modernisierung", pp. 342-345. 

30 The importance of the armed services in German cities has recently been stressed, though 
focusing more on public order and civic mentalities than on military functions, by Tlusty, The 
Martial Ethic in Early Modern Germany. 

31 Since local military customs in the countryside are widely unexplored, the edition of a 
late-medieval finding of law might be worth taking a look at; see Franz, Quellen zur Geschichte 
des deutschen Bauernstandes im Mittelalter, pp. 592-596. 

32 A very good example of such complexity of military structures, combined with an edition 
of many archival sources, is offered by Schennach, Ritter, Landsknecht, Aufgebot. 

33 Of course, sieges as a crucial part of early modern warfare were mostly carried out by perma- 
nent or occasional garrison troops as part of the territorial army. On the role of the inhabitants 
of a fortified city and their relationship to the garrison troops, see Hohrath, "Der Burger im Krieg 



Such local military organizations are usually called militias. We lack the 
detailed studies that would allow us to construct a comprehensive overview 
of the role of militias, although enough is known to establish that they were 
of varying military value. Nevertheless, for many early modern contempo- 
raries the idea of militia service gained a special importance, with military 
philosophers such as Machiavelli associating it with the much-acclaimed 
ideal of a republican military force, based on the duty performed by free 
citizens and seemingly prefigured in the ancient Roman Republic. 34 In the 
English debates of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries the concept 
of militia was counterposed to the much criticized standing armies. 35 In 
Germany during the same period, the term "militia" was frequently ill 
defined, and could even designate the military as a whole. In the light 
of such divergent terminological usage, I should emphasize that in this 
chapter "militia" will be used as an analytical category, denoting a kind of 
non-professional military service, based on common duties, performed only 
on demand, and therefore, in an analytical sense, opposed in principle to 
the characteristics of standing professional armies. 

It is important to note, however, that in certain regions a new type of 
permanent, though non-professional military service emerged several 
decades before the establishment of standing armies. Around 1600, threat- 
ened by the Eighty Years' War and the increasing tensions within the Holy 
Roman Empire, some minor princes and counts of the empire started taking 
precautionary measures to prepare their territories for military defence. 
And while they lacked the necessary resources to hire significant numbers 
of mercenaries, they tried to organize regular military training for a large 
number of their subjects who were selected in their communities according 
to prescribed ratios. Although the participants retained their civil status 
and remained within their localities, they were integrated into a loose 
organization, e.g., by dividing them into several companies, which were 
assigned to certain captains. From time to time, generally on Sundays, 
they were convoked for some basic military training, especially in the use 
of guns. 

der Fiirsten"; on the participation of citizens in defence efforts, see specifically pp. 321-326. It is, 
however, not that easy to find significant examples; Schnitter, Votk unci Landesdefension, referred 
to the defence of the Palatine city of Frankenthal against Spanish troops in 1621 and 1622. See also 
Egler, Die Spanier in der linksrheinischen Pfalz, pp. 66-68, for her section referring to the Theatrum 
Europaeum; seemingly, however, the major burden of defence was sustained by British mercenaries. 

34 See Metzger, Die Milizarmee im klassischen Republikanismus. 

35 See Schwoerer, No Standing Armies. 



Obviously, these formations 36 still met some crucial criteria for militias, 
according to the definition given above. The participants served as non- 
professionals, performed common duties, and, in a certain sense, still served 
only occasionally. However, at least two basic changes are no less obvious. 
Military service within these structures was no longer limited to times of 
emergency. In fact, such militias established a kind of periodic military 
service in peacetime even several decades before standing armies emerged. 
Secondly, the legal framework was renewed. In contrast to earlier levies 
the new militias, most often called Landesdefensionen (territorial defence 
forces), were not composed of different contingents but formed - at least in 
principle and ignoring the practice of privileges and exemptions - a homo- 
geneous organization which did not systematically differentiate between 
subjects of the ruler, subjects of the noble landlords, and urban inhabit- 
ants. Unlike earlier municipal militias, which more or less kept the idea of 
municipal autonomy and military self-defence, based - at least theoretically 
- on a reciprocal military obligation of the citizens, the Landesdefensionen 
were exclusively bound to serve the rulers' policies. Their emergence can 
therefore be interpreted as enforcing the state-building process, 37 because 
they helped to establish a monopoly of violence and reinforced a trend 
towards the equalization of the status of the ruler's subjects at the cost of 
former noble and municipal privileges. Of course, one has to be aware of 
the diffuse realities that lay behind such theoretical abstractions, but the 
further changes to be discussed below will confirm the general thrust of 

Some of these organizations, e.g. in Saxony 38 or in the Electoral Palatinate, 39 
in Bavaria, 40 or even in Brandenburg-Prussia, 41 were maintained or resur- 
rected even after the end of the Thirty Years War, though these minor 
territories started to build up permanent forces too. An even more striking 

36 For an overview, see Schnitter, Volk unci Landesdefension. 

37 See Schulze, "Die deutschen Landesdefensionen im 16. und 17. Jahrhundert", specifically 
P- 133- 

38 Naumann, Das kursdchsische Defensionswerk (1613 bis ryog); Kroll, Sotdaten im 18. Jahrhundert 
zwischen Friedensatltag und Kriegserfahrung, pp. 125-129. 

39 Bezzel, Geschichte des kurpfalzischen Heeres. 

40 Wiirdinger, "Die bayerischen Landfahnen vom Jahre 1651-1705"; Staudinger, Geschichte 
des kurbayerischen Heeres unter Kurfurst Max II. Emanuel 76S0-7705, I, pp. 648f, II, pp. 785ff, 
Geschichte des kurbayerischen Heeres unter Kurfurst Karl Albrecht- Kaiser KarlVII- und Kurfiirst 
Max III. Joseph 7726-7777, 1, pp. 2i6ff. 

41 Lampe, "Der Milizgedanke und seine Durchfiihrung in Brandenburg-PreuKen", pp. 105-132 
(only available as a carbon copy); Gose, "Die brandenburgisch-preuKische Landmiliz". See also, 
in regard to the duchy of Prussia, later East Prussia, Marwitz, Staatsrason und landesdefension. 



example for the relevance of militia forces within the framework of standing 
armies emerged in France. Here, local militias endured into the eighteenth 
century, providing, for example, soldiers to guard the coasts and borders. 
However, in 1688 the establishment of a Royal Militia was decreed. This 
step in fact created a new type of militia by transforming the principle of 
local military service into a countrywide organization at the disposal of the 
king. 42 Varying numbers of militiamen could be called up by changing the 
quotas that each village had to supply; men from adjacent villages were put 
together in companies; officers were assigned to oversee regular training 
on Sundays and holidays. In case of war, they formed provincial regiments 
which were put under the command of the army. These units were expected 
to support the army in different ways with up to tens of thousands of men, 
a small but not insignificant number. The involuntary involvement of the 
population during the bellicose reign of Louis XIV, however, also provoked 
resistance; service with the militia was perceived as a "blood tax" on poor 
people. During the eighteenth century the militia underwent a change of 
fortune and was dissolved for many years, but never lost its bad reputation. 
From a more general perspective it nevertheless lent the French military 
system a kind of hybrid character (Lynn) by founding its recruitment on 
two very distinct principles. 

Certainly the military value of militia units was limited, and it in fact 
diminished in comparison to the increasing efficiency of permanently 
maintained troops. Nevertheless, militias or levies were still employed, 
even during the heyday of linear warfare in the middle of the eighteenth 
century. 43 At the very least they seem to have been reasonably effective as 
defence forces for fortified places or against marauders. Thus, in comparison 

42 See, for example, Lynn, Giant of the Grand Siecle, pp. 371-393; Corvisier, L'armee francaise 
delafin duXVIIe siecle au ministerede Choiseul, I, pp. 111-119, 197-231; Girard, Racolage etmilice 
(7701-1775); Hennet, Les milices et les troupes provinciales. 

43 Many militia activities are reported, though not yet systematically explored, from Moravia 
and Silesia, the main theatres of the Silesian Wars; they are mentioned in the multi-volume works 
of the official historiography, published by the Prussian General Staff, as well as the Austrian. 
See GroKer Generalstab, Die Kriege Friedrichs des Grojien, 1. 3, pp. g8f, 101, 108, 118, 140, 161, 178, 
286f, 313, II. 1, 77f, 101, 22of, 222f, II. 2, gof, 139, II.3, 136, 143, 179, (and on Saxon militias) 194, 202, 
220, III. 8, 3, 34f, 52, 85, 212; corresponding information can be found in Kriegsgeschichtliche 
Abteilung des K. und k. Kriegs-Archivs, Kriege unter der Regierung der Kaiserin-Kbnigin Maria 
Theresia. Of course, there are also many hints about the lack of efficiency of militias. Striking 
is the chaos caused by Hessian militiamen during the Battle of Sandershausen in 1758; they 
were positioned in the middle of the battle order, became disoriented, panicked, and fired on 
everyone, friend or foe. See Savory, His Britannic Majesty's Army in Germany during the Seven 
Years War, pp. g6ff. 


to the standing troops, the militias usually played only an auxiliary role. 
For example, they could serve as guards, thus relieving the army of some 
duties during wartime. 

It seems that the most important auxiliary function was to provide 
reinforcements for the army, as a pool for voluntary engagement in one 
way or another. In practice, the distinctions between these two types of 
military organization could become blurred. 44 Sometimes militia units 
were used directly to support the army in the field and were more or less 
integrated, and sometimes rulers called for direct levies to fill the ranks of 
the standing units. Their traditional duty, formerly restricted to cases of 
necessity, rooted in local contexts, therefore tended to be transformed, step 
by step, into a resource for permanent military efforts at the unrestricted 
disposal of the ruler. Of course, one should add the stories of resistance 
against such measures. 

In the Holy Roman Empire these developments were also reflected in 
the discourse on public law in the eighteenth century. 45 The crucial point 
was whether the subjects could be forced into military service beyond 
those instances of acute necessity, which was out of the question. From the 
cabinet's point of view the differences between voluntary enlistment and 
impressment were less theoretical than practical. Obviously, standing units 
were preferred to militias because of their greater military effectiveness. 
Enforcing an obligation on subjects to serve in the militias, on the other 
hand, was not only an easy way of recruiting, but also a cheap one, and this 
was crucial. Militias did not generate as many costs as standing armies; 
even when subjects were forced to enter the permanent units and therefore 
came to be paid regularly, nevertheless the initial costs of recruitment and 
especially the premiums for engagement (which were considerable) had 
been saved. 

Furthermore, it is worth discussing the way in which particular problems 
of recruitment were solved in Prussia mostly during the second decade of the 
eighteenth century, not least because some contemporaries considered this 
solution to offer an example to be followed. In comparison to the practices 
outlined above, it might be astonishing to see that the Prussian military 
build-up started with a seemingly contrary action. Although Prussia had 

44 For an overview, see Sikora, Disziplin unci Desertion, pp. 238-243. 

45 Fichte, Die Begriindung cies Militdrdienstverhdltnisses, pp. 136-182; Sikora, Disziplin und 
Desertion, pp. 236-238; one of the most sophisticated contributions, though clearly situational, 
in opposition to recruitments in Wiirttemberg, is [Moser], Abhandtung von Noethigung derer 
Unterthanen zu regulairen Kriegs-Diensten. 



a militia at its disposal at the beginning of the eighteenth century, it was 
dissolved by Frederick William I soon after he acceded to the throne. 46 His 
action reflected a typical problem concerning recruitment: the existence of 
rivalry The militia constrained recruitment to the standing army because 
the members of the militia enjoyed the privilege of being exempt from the 
reach of the recruiting officers. From this point of view, the abolition of the 
militia should have facilitated more or less voluntary enlistment because 
the king exclusively favoured the expansion of the standing army. 

Yet frictions and rivalries continued, no longer between militia and army, 
but between the different regiments of the army, which competed to find 
recruits from within the ruler's territories. What would come to constitute 
the distinguishing characteristics of the Prussian system of recruitment 
did not emerge as the result of an intentional plan, but were developed 
piecemeal as solutions for particular problems. 47 They can be summarized 
under three headings. First, the regiments tried to lay claim to potential 
future recruits to prevent other regiments from taking them. Therefore, at 
an early stage they started to put the names of young boys in the area around 
their garrisons onto lists, which were intended to reserve the individuals 
for service with the local regiment. Secondly, to avoid further conflicts, the 
central government started to draw boundary lines between the regiments 
and ended up creating recruiting districts, or so-called Kantone, from which 
the name Kantonsystem was derived. Once the system was elaborated, 
these cantons comprised a certain number of households to assure that 
every regiment had similar opportunities for recruitment. Within these 
cantons, the future recruits were already systematically registered by the 
army during their childhood, a task which was subsequently carried out 
with the help of local civil officials. 

Since the enlargement of the army absorbed many domestic recruits, the 
more so since they were picked out in such a systematic way, the economic 
advantages threatened to turn into disadvantages. The price was the loss of 

46 In fact, he did so less than two weeks after the death of his father. In 1718, Frederick William 
even forbade the use of the word "militia", insisting his troops be called "regiments" or "soldiers". 
Obviously the king was very keen on marking the difference: Frauenholz, Das Heerwesen in der 
Zeit des Absolutismus, pp. 194, 23if. 

47 As a useful outline of the Kantonsystem's development, see Jany, "Die Kantonverfassung 
Friedrich Wilhelms I."; the most recent contribution to its exploration is Winter, Untertanengeist 
durch Militdrpflicht? (on its emergence see specifically pp. 39-97). For an overview of the 
influential debate on the social impact of the Kantonsystem and comparisons with other 
practices of domestic recruitment in German territories, see Wilson, "Social Militarization in 
Eighteenth-Century Germany". Some documents can be found in Frauenholz, Das Heerwesen 
in der Zeit des Absolutismus. 


civilian labour force and tax revenue. This could partly be compensated for 
by intensifying foreign recruitment, but this was rather costly. It could be 
mitigated in detail by excluding certain professions from being recruited, 
based on regional and economic factors. 48 The most important way out of 
this dilemma, however, was to furlough the domestic soldiers, the Kanton- 
isten, for most of the year. In fact, during peacetime, they were obliged to 
join the troops only for two months in spring for exercises and manoeuvres. 
This was the third main characteristic of the Kantonsystem. 

If the parallel existence of standing units and militias maybe perceived 
as a hybrid military organization, the Kantonsystem was an even more 
bastardized form of recruitment. In its final stage it looked, in regard to 
the Kantonisten, very similar to a militia. Unlike in the Landesdefensionen, 
however, regular training did not take place in the civilian environment 
in the form of afternoon exercises, but was concentrated into a few weeks 
on the garrisons' drill grounds; therefore, for most of the year, the soldiers 
lived a real civilian life in peacetime (if we disregard some complications in 
the details). Nevertheless, they were not organized in a separate institution 
from the army, but were mixed in with the mercenaries and formed the 
fundamental basis of a standing army, in respect of its numbers as well as 
presumably with regard to its mentality, though the latter is rather difficult 
to discern. 

It should also not be overlooked that the intention behind the Kan- 
tonsystem was not to enforce obligatory military service on all potential 
Kantonisten, but rather to serve as a tool for the regiments to simply refill 
their ranks according to their current needs. After all, it did not emerge as 
an improvement of former militias, but as an optimization of regimental 
recruitment, which originally was based on individual volunteering. The 
Kantonsystem was therefore most precisely characterized as "legalizing a 
system of forced domestic recruitment" ("rechtliche Fixierung der inlan- 
dischen Zwangswerbung"), 49 a definition that includes the assumption 
that genuine voluntary enlistment turned into a rather coercive practice 
as the Prussian army doubled in size under Frederick William I. As a result, 
however, the system turned violence into a predictable obligation - that is 
to say, physical force into legal force - and provided continous reinforce- 
ments for the army. Therefore, it seemingly offered exemplary solutions for 

48 Kloosterhuis, "Zwischen Aufruhr und Akzeptanz", Bauern, Burger unci Soldaten; Winter, 
Untertanengeist (lurch Militdrpflicht?, specifically pp. 263-275. 

49 Von Schmoller, Umrisse und Untersuchungen zur Verfassungs-, Verwaltungs- und Wirtschafts- 
geschichte besonders des Preufiischen Staates, p. 278. 



typical structural problems of the time and inspired similar efforts in other 
territories, such as Hesse-Cassel and Austria. 50 

One should add that the implementation of the Kantonsystem in particu- 
lar as well as militias in general had to take account of the local distribution 
of power since feudal structures were still of great importance in parts of 
central Europe. This was especially true in regard to the so-called Gutsherr- 
sckaft in parts of Brandenburg, where peasants were subject to a rigorous 
form of serfdom. However, turning them into Kantonisten also implied 
that they had been (at least partially) transferred from the jurisdiction of 
their landlords to the jurisdiction of the military. Although they may be 
said to have been doubly unfree, there are also hints that the rivalry of two 
authorities could strengthen their position in conflicts with their landlords. 
Therefore, the consequences of compulsory service in pre-modern societies 
may possibly turn out to be rather complex, though this cannot be discussed 
in detail here. 

Looking at the composition of armies during the course of these transfor- 
mations, but also considering the early modern period as a whole, requires 
at least two additional points to be made. First, most observations, including 
those outlined above, deal with the bulk of the army, which was constituted 
by the infantry. However, the cavalry continued to play an important role 
on the battlefield as well forming a not insignificant element of the forces. 
Although this aspect is neglected by historical research, it nevertheless 
seems that the recruiting of cavalrymen could usually be maintained by 
way of voluntary enlistment, and the system did not face the problems 
encountered with the recruitment of infantrymen. This was probably linked 
to the cavalry's higher reputation and possibly also with a less exhausting 
kind of service. Whatever the case, the cavalry did not necessitate the 
utilization of any new methods of recruitment. 

This is also true, albeit for different reasons, with regard to specialist 
units with more technical functions, such as the artillery. Although their 
importance on the battlefield increased, they still formed only small units 

50 Ingrao, The Hessian Mercenary State, pp. 132-135; the impact on rural society has been 
analysed by Taylor, Indentured to Liberty, whose results provoked a little controversy; see the 
review by Charles Ingrao, Central European History 27 (1994), pp. 509-512, and the reply by Taylor, 
"Disagreement over the Hessian Military State of the Eighteenth Century". Graf, "Landesdefen- 
sion oder 'Fundamentalmilitarisierung'?", discusses the influences of the older Hessian militias. 
The rules for the introduction of Kantone in Hesse, decreed in 1762, are printed in Auerbach 
and Frohlich, Hessische Truppen im Amerikanischen Unabhdngigkeitskrieg, III, pp. 2gff. For 
Austria, see Szabo, Kaunitz and Enlightened Absolutism 1753-7780, pp. 258-295; Hochedlinger, 
"Rekrutierung - Militarisierung - Modernisierung", pp. 345-353. 


with long-serving soldiers, so that the need for recruits was rather limited 
and had no relevant impact on the principles of military organization. 51 

The same does not apply, however, to the role of the nobility. Military 
service was an essential part of the nobility's collective identity and legiti- 
macy. That did not mean that the glorified traditions of martial endeavour 
and chivalry aligned with military practice at the end of the seventeenth 
century. Nor did it mean that every nobleman actually joined the army. In 
fact, the Prussian king Frederick William I, once again, not only forced his 
subjects into military service, but also expected the noble houses of his 
territory to send at least one son into the army, an expectation that was oc- 
casionally enforced with all the means at his disposal. 52 The military service 
of the domestic nobility should have facilitated control either over the army 
or over the nobility itself. For many noblemen, in Prussia as elsewhere, a 
period of military service, even if only for a limited number of years, still 
constituted a meaningful and indisputable part of their biography and 
an honourable way to earn a living, at least in a symbolic sense, since the 
income of many officerships did not cover the costs of keeping up noble 
appearances, which therefore must have been paid for out of the family 

In terms of the army's composition, the military service of the nobility 
represented a third constituent of military service alongside voluntary 
enlistment and the obligation of the subjects. The service of the nobles 
was based on a framework of cultural values and traditions 53 from which 
ordinary soldiers were excluded and, although the noble members of the 
military comprised only a minority of the military personnel, their impor- 
tance was enhanced by the fact that they almost exclusively occupied the 
officerships. This reflected their privileged position in the society of orders, 
and the transference of these principles into the military inevitably led to 
a fundamental separation between the officers and the ordinary men with 
regard to reputation, rank, and mentality. This, however, also corresponded 
to the latter's everyday experience in civilian life. 

Of course, it has to be admitted that not every officer was of noble origin. 
This was especially true for the technical branches of the army; first of all 
the artillery, where the need for specialist knowledge made the service 
less attractive for nobles. This notwithstanding, even in the infantry and 

51 See, for example, Duffy, The Army of Maria Theresa, p. 108. 

52 Blisch, Militarsystem unci Sozialleben im alten Preufien, pp. 79-83; Gose, "Zwischen Garnison 
und Rittergut". 

53 Some general observations can be found in Sikora, Disziplin und Desertion, pp. 343-350. 



cavalry there was some opportunity for military careers to be pursued by 
non-noble soldiers who distinguished themselves. However, until the era of 
revolution and reform these cases continued to be individual exceptions, 
albeit with some fluctuations over time. Periods of extended warfare, above 
all the Thirty Years War, favoured such careers 54 while the perpetuation of 
the military organization even tended to stabilize the connection between 
social and military hierarchy. Additionally it should be noted that climbers 
from the lower ranks were mostly ennobled as they rose up the military 
hierarchy. In a certain sense they adjusted to prevailing socio-cultural 

By contrast with the common soldiers, no structural changes have been 
detected with regard to noble entrants to the army as a result of the intro- 
duction of standing armies. The pressure exercised by the king of Prussia 
does not seem to be representative. The transformation of the military 
into a permanent organization, however, changed the framework for all 
levels of military service. To complete the outline of the whole process 
this dimension has to be added to the discussion around recruitment. It 
certainly also influenced the motivation of possible recruits. 

Observations: conditions 

First of all, the permanence of the military allowed for the period of military 
service to be significantly extended. Wholesale demobilizations at the 
end of a war were reduced step by step, 55 although all states, even in the 
eighteenth century, still continued to make use of the short-term formation 
and disbandment of units. 56 On the whole, however, armies started to offer 
options for lifelong careers, or at least a livelihood, though the changes 
should not be exaggerated. Long periods of armed conflict, especially 
the Thirty Years War, prolonged in France by the Franco-Spanish War, 
required long-term service which had not actually been desired for its own 
sake at this time. The introduction of standing armies, however, not only 
institutionalized long-term service, but also established peacetime military 
service as a common practice for many thousands of military employees. 57 

54 See Kaiser, "1st er vom Adel?" 

55 The ongoing practice of army reductions even after 1648 has been emphasized by Kroener, 
'"Der Krieg hat ein Loch 

56 A recently presented example is Nowosadtko, Stehendes Heer im Stdndestaat, pp. 159-178. 

57 Ibid., pp. 180-185; Prove, Stehendes Heer und stadtische Gesellschaft im 78. Jahrhundert, 
pp. 88-94; Fann, "On the Infantryman's Age in Eighteenth Century Prussia". 


It should be stressed, on the one hand, that this did not mean that a 
lifelong military occupation became the norm. Of course, the military 
authorities tried to keep their soldiers in service as long as possible. This 
was a traditional source of friction between military commanders and 
the soldiers because, 58 during wartime, the authorities had always tried 
to compel the soldiers to serve until the end of the conflict. In peacetime 
standing armies, the circumstances were far less dramatic, but long-term 
service was still in the interests of the authorities because it kept military 
experience and skills in the army and saved the cost and effort of recruit- 
ment. They therefore tried to impose long-term service as the only option; 
for example, in Prussia and Bavaria voluntary enlistment was in principle 
unlimited. There is some evidence from the eighteenth century that in fact 
soldiers increasingly tended to spend their whole professional life serving 
in one army. 

On the other hand, this situation was not in the interests of potential 
recruits. There is evidence that most soldiers preferred to serve for a limited 
time and that there was room for negotiation over the length of service 
in some circumstances. 59 Whether recruitment was being carried out in 
peacetime or in wartime obviously made a difference. During the Silesian 
Wars and the Seven Years War, Bavaria quickly resorted to contracts limiting 
military service to no more than three years just to get soldiers to sign on 
at all. 60 Subsequent disagreements over the contract and date of dismissal 
resulted in conflict and desertions. 

Alongside the introduction of a standing army, payment and subsistence 
had to be permanently provided, which proved a major challenge for state 
bureaucracies and especially for their treasuries, as well as being a major 
factor in changing the character of soldiers' working conditions. In fact, 
the authorities managed the challenge by pragmatically developing mixed 
systems, which varied from time to time and from territory to territory, but 
which typically comprised a number of components. Such expedients had 
to some extent been prefigured during the Thirty Years War when they 
had developed as a result of the circumstances which mostly did not allow 
regular payment. 

58 Redlich, The German Military Enterpriser and His Work Force, p. 218; Sikora, Disziplin unci 
Desertion, pp. 193-196. 

59 Once again, see Nowosadtko, Stehendes Heer im Stdndestaat, pp. 180-185; Prove, Stehendes 
Heer und stadtische Gesellschaft im iS.Jahrhundert, pp. 88-94. 

60 Staudinger, Geschichte des kurbayerischen Heeres unter Kurfurst Karl Albrecht - Kaiser Karl 
VII. - und Kurfurst Max III. Joseph 7726-7777,, I, pp. 24of. 



Of course, a monthly payment continued to form the core of remunera- 
tion. While the pay of the mercenaries, at least its nominal level, had been 
relatively stable during the sixteenth century, some fluctuation can be 
observed during the second half of the seventeenth century, probably be- 
cause of the conditions of the recruitment market. As a whole the nominal 
level of the monthly pay tended to decrease by up to 50 per cent, although 
precise comparisons are difficult to draw. 61 

One element in the soldier's monetary compensation was the premium, 
or signing-on bounty, paid as a reward for voluntary enlistment, and this did 
increase in importance. Originally recruits had received a certain sum to 
cover the costs of travelling from the place of recruitment to the place where 
the recruits were mustered. Later on, this payment changed its function 
and became a very flexible device that recruiters used to compete with one 
another. 62 Of course, the premium was designed to overcome a potential 
recruit's immediate concerns and to obscure the conditions of long-term 
service, and certainly its value to the recruit was negligible in the context 
of an extended period of soldiering. Nevertheless, the premium might 
well have weighed heavily with some potential recruits as they sought to 
evaluate the benefits and risks of signing on. On the whole, it is clear that 
the military authorities focused their efforts on the act of enlistment. Once 
recruited, the men were subjected to the judicial consequences of their 
contract and oath 63 and the constraints of the institution. In this sense, 
premiums, as well as forced recruitments, compensated for a lack of supply, 
which was partly caused by poor salaries, which, for their part, resulted 
from the costs of standing armies. 

The monetary payment did not cover all the soldier's needs. He required 
clothes and weapons, food, quarters, and some everyday commodities. In 
contrast to previous practice, clothes and weapons were usually delivered by 
the authorities. This was, incidentally, the reason why clothing became more 
and more "uniform", since it was ordered in large quantities and increasingly 
prescribed in detail. 64 In some armies and in some periods, however, the 

61 Burschel, Soldner im Nordwestdeutschland des 76. undij.Jahrhunderts, pp. 188, igif.; Redlich, 
The German Military Enterpriser and His WorkForce, II, pp. 27, 29. 

62 Burschel, Soldner im Nordwestdeutschland des 76. undij.Jahrhunderts, pp. 102-104; Redlich, 
The German Military Enterpriser and His WorkForce, II, pp. 15-18. 

63 Sikora, Disziplin und Desertion, p. 129; Fichte, Die Begriindung des Militardienstverhaltnisses, 
pp. 88-118. 

64 Hohrath, "Uniform"; deep insights into the material culture of an eighteenth-century 
army, with plenty of illustrations, are now provided by Hohrath, Friedrich der Grojie und die 
Uniformierung der preujiischen Armee. 


cost of the equipment was deducted from soldiers' pay. There were similar 
options to ensure the nourishment of the soldiers. Sometimes the soldiers 
had to use their pay to buy food on the open market; at other times basic 
foodstuffs were delivered to the army. In this case, sometimes the food was 
free and at times it was deducted from the soldier's pay. Finally, in many 
territories, lodging was still provided by the civilian population, since the 
construction of barracks, as in France, remained the exception rather than 
the rule, and the soldiers were allocated to private households. Commodities 
that the soldiers could demand in many cases included wood, wax, salt, 
pepper, and vinegar. It seems to have been a widespread practice to shift 
the delivery of these items to the hosts, which could be considered a kind 
of tax. In some regions the hosts even had to serve the food for the soldiers. 

Thus, the income of the soldiers was a mix of money and non-cash ben- 
efits. 65 It is difficult to evaluate the totals, but it seems reasonable to suggest 
that the level of the soldiers' income was comparable with the earnings of 
day-labourers or clerks on the lowest level. This may have allowed at best a 
modest, but stable living, though some documents also reveal complaints 
of poor conditions. These were also reflected in the regulations restricting 
the soldier's right to marry. Such restrictions were designed to limit the 
number of dependent women and children in armies, with their associated 
costs. 66 For a minority of soldiers things could turn for the better since 
wages grew significantly as they climbed the hierarchy of ranks. Common 
soldiers could supplement their income by taking on additional overtime 
shifts within the military, and also by offering their labour on the civilian 
market or by selling simple products. 67 Many of them, for example, were 
former journeymen. So even non-military components can be added to a 
diversified set of income sources and benefits, which on the whole ensured 
the livelihood of the soldiers. 

The non-military aspect of the soldier's occupation directs the focus to the 
form of military service itself. Customary peacetime functions consisted of 
guard duty and sometimes possibly small missions to maintain public order, 
since the authorities did not yet have the large numbers of personnel required 

65 These paragraphs are a summary of the findings of Burschel, Soldner imNordwestdeutschland 
des 76. undry.Jahrhunderts, pp. 188-192; Redlich, The German MUitary Enterpriser and His Work 
Force, II, pp. 236-258. 

66 Much deeper insight on this subject can be found in Engelen, Soldatenfrauen in Preujien; 
on the regulations, see pp. 41-68. 

67 Nowosadtko, Stehendes Heer im Stdndestaat, pp. 234-241; Kroll, Soldaten im i8.Jahrhundert 
zwischen Friedensalltag und Kriegserfahrung, pp. 286-289; Prove, Stehendes Heer undstddtische 
Gesellschaft im i8.Jahrhundert, pp. 252-266, also discusses illegal incomes. 



to enforce the civil law. However, these functions could be fulfilled by a small 
fraction of the soldiers recruited into the burgeoning standing armies. In 
fact soldiers of these armies enjoyed a lot of time unoccupied by military 
duties, 68 as their additional earnings indicated. They fulfilled their military 
function, at least partly, by their simple presence and availability. Of course, the 
maintenance of their fighting abilities was part of their everyday life as well. 

This military training corresponded to the principles of so-called linear 
warfare which took its more or less final shape towards the end of the 
seventeenth century. 69 The collective formations of the soldiers had changed 
over decades from large squares to broad but thin lines only four or three 
men deep. Since trained infantrymen deployed in such a fashion presented 
a powerful defensive formation, the extra numbers recruited into armies 
could be used to broaden the formation, with the option of outflanking 
the adversary. For the majority of soldiers the objectives of military train- 
ing derived from this formation although the enduring importance of the 
cavalry and the growing importance of the artillery should not be denied. 

It is well known and obvious even from this very short description that 
this kind of warfare did not call for outstanding dexterity and flexibility 
on the part of the soldiers. The main issue was to ensure that they were 
obedient and acted in a co-ordinated way. The major skills required were 
the use of the musket and collective movements of the whole body of troops. 
The handling of the musket was broken down into a certain number of 
distinct movements which were linked to specific commands. Contem- 
porary military authors loved to illustrate this technique by presenting 
image sequences which in a certain sense prefigured modern instruction 
manuals by representing standardized operations. 70 This dissection of the 
required movements seemingly facilitated teaching the recruits the use of 
muskets, which in fact required a complex sequence of manoeuvres since 
they were still one-shot muzzle loaders. Additionally, the fragmentation 
allowed progress in co-ordinating the action of the troops. By dividing a 
single operation into a series of discrete movements, the operation could 
be reconstructed as a collective action. Even more delicate was the chal- 
lenge of moving many thousands of men on the battlefield in the described 
way, when the front of an army could span several kilometres. This not 

68 Prove, Stehendes Heer unci stddtische Gesellschaft im iS.Jahrhundert, pp. 155-159; Burschel, 
Soldner im Nordwestdeutschland des 76. undij.Jahrhunderts, pp. 214-217. 

69 Lynn, Battle, pp. 111-125. 

70 Sikora, "Die Mechanisierung des Kriegers"; see also Wellmann, "Hand und Leib, Arbeiten 
und Uben". 


only required strict discipline to keep the soldiers in line but, in advance 
of this, long columns of marching soldiers also had to be deployed and 
transformed into a line, ideally without considerable gaps opening up and 
sections overlapping, all the while taking account of the conditions on the 
battlefield and the actions of the adversaries. 

To keep control over the troops according to these principles and under 
such circumstances, peacetime training seemingly was inevitable and must 
therefore be considered a crucial precondition for linear warfare. Of course, 
there were some differences between chronological periods and armies with 
regard to the intensity of the training, which ranged from one or two times 
a week up to daily exercises in the later Prussian army, albeit still limited to 
the morning. 71 Training for collective movements was done in small units 
since the performance of large-scale manoeuvres required considerable 
effort and these were reduced to, at best, annual events, which may have 
become spectacular affairs attracting members of the court and foreign 
observers. 72 Certainly it must be admitted that the theory in books and even 
the practice on the parade ground did not exactly represent the reality of 
the battlefield, something which will not be discussed at this juncture. On 
the other hand, however, regular training not only implied something like 
an employment scheme for the soldiers and an attempt to control future 
battles, but also a certain military mentality. 

This elaborate method of military training, which became well known as 
drill, can be traced back to the end of the sixteenth century, when the military 
leaders of the Dutch revolt tried to increase the efficiency of their military 
forces in their struggle against the superior Spanish army. Their reforms 
were inspired not only by military experience, but also by contemporary 
philosophy and the ideas of military authors of late antiquity. 73 Therefore, they 
propagated not only certain details of military tactics and training, but also 
the ethical ideals of the perfect soldier, which were integrated into a renewed 
concept of military discipline. While losing some of its sophistication, the idea 
of discipline remained a key concept in the debates of military authors. It was 
substantiated not only in the image sequences mentioned above, but also in 

71 All details of Prussian military training, at least as they were intended to be fulfilled, can be 
derived from regulations which covered the entire spectrum of military duties and are mostly 
available as reprints; the most important are Reglementvor die Konigl. Preujiische Infanterie [...] 
(Potsdam, 1726, repr. Onsbariick, 1968) and, Reglementvor die Konigl. Preujiische Infanterie [...] 
(Berlin, 1943, repr. Osnabriick, 1976). 

72 Luh, Kriegskunst in Europa 1650-1800, pp. 194-208. 

73 Sikora, "Die Mechanisierung des Kriegers"; Sicken, "Die oranische Heeresreform"; Hahlweg, 
Die Heeresreformer der Oranier unddie Antike, 



various ways in which weapon-handling was dealt with in the growing num- 
ber of military manuals, which tended to increase the number of individual 
movements soldiers were expected to perform and commands they had to 
obey 74 They shaped an image of soldiers as subject to a rather mechanical 
ideal of training and fighting. Beyond the pure rationale of combat efficiency 
the whole appearance of the soldiers was expected to reflect the qualities of 
discipline and obedience that imbued their whole being. 

Once again it should be stressed that the reality of the parade ground 
probably looked much more prosaic than theories and manuals suggest, but 
without doubt the introduction of standing armies created the conditions 
for a significantly higher level of control over the soldiers. This control was 
expressed through more than just regular drills. It became manifest in a 
certain weakening of the soldiers' rights as well. In contrast to the mercenar- 
ies in the armies of the sixteenth century, who had cultivated some elements 
of corporate autonomy and representation based on their self-conception as 
contractual partners, 75 members of the standing armies were increasingly 
subject to the one-sided duties confirmed by their oaths and subordinated 
to a militaryjustice that was handled by academically trained jurists in the 
interests of and according to the guidelines of the rulers. As one example, it 
has been observed that, starting with the Dutch reformers, the soldiers were 
confronted with demands to carry out construction work on entrenchments 
and fortifications. 76 Although the real extent of such work cannot be quanti- 
fied, the claim marks a significant change, since such duties were strongly 
resisted during the heyday of mercenary business as incompatible with the 
honour of the warriors. The increase in control in the seventeenth century 
was also reflected in the intensified use of written means of registration 
and periodic inventory. 77 Even the distribution of uniform clothing can be 
regarded as a symbolic expression of increasing control as it reduced the 
opportunity for individual expression and even eccentricity, which seems 
to have been quite typical of the older mercenary tradition. 78 

74 Kleinschmidt, Tyrocinium Mititare. 

75 Baumann, Landsknechte, pp. 92-130; Moller, Das Regiment der Landsknechte, pp. 52-112. 

76 Burschel, Soldner im Nordwestdeutschland des 76. und i/.Jahrhunderts, pp. 137-138. 

77 See, for France, the insight in the vast possible quantity of data from the French records 
provided by Corvisier, Les controles des troupes de I'Ancien Regime. Almost all Prussian lists 
were lost during the Second World War, but even a single example can give an impression 
of the intensity of documentation; see (with photographic reproductions of the lists) Hanne 
(introduction), Rangirrolle, Listen und Extracte ... von Saldern Infanterie Regiment Anno 7777. 

78 Rogg, "Zerhauen und zerschnitten, nachadelichen Sitten", including reflections on the 
interdependence between military clothing, civilian clothing, and the progress of military 
discipline. For a number of visual examples, see Rogg, Landsknechte und Reislaufer. 


Seemingly, the military turned out to be that element of the population 
that was best controlled and most disciplined by the authorities, with the 
exception of prisoners. However, a mere listing of those factors that drove 
the move towards the implementation of ever more restrictive discipline 
should not lead us to believe that the military was transformed into a 
frictionless machine (not an arbitrary metaphor, but one which became 
common at least during the eighteenth century). 79 Although it is almost 
impossible to compare the level of insubordination and refusal, abuse, and 
disorder over time and changing conditions, at least the manifestations 
of refusal seem to have changed their profile. While mutinies apparently 
caught much attention and reflected the structures typical of the classic 
mercenary armies, 80 they mostly disappeared from around the middle of 
the seventeenth century or were at least reduced to minor and exceptional 
incidents. This might have been the combined result of several factors: the 
increase in control and the decrease in collective advocacy of common 
interests, but also the stabilization of maintenance and payment which, 
though the sums were still rather poor, nevertheless probably prevented 
discontent and resistance. 

On the other hand, desertion started to attract much more attention 
and effort. 81 To be sure, soldiers had deserted in the preceding period, too, 
perhaps in significant numbers, but the phenomenon remained relatively 
invisible to historians, since even contemporary authorities did not or were 
not able to focus on this subject. From the second half of the seventeenth 
century, however, desertion was especially addressed in an increasing num- 
ber of edicts and decrees. It became more precisely defined in these edicts 
and in the juridical debate, and in Germany even the word started to become 
established as a technical term. 82 The growing tendency of authorities to 
categorize, list, and archive thus provides the historian with more abundant 
documentation of the phenomenon which, although often fragmentary, 
allows a more complete picture to be established than for earlier periods. 

79 See Sikora, Disziplin unci Desertion, pp. 45f; for the parallels between the military discourse 
and the discourse on state politics, see Stollberg-Rilinger, Der Staatats Maschine. 

80 Parker, "Mutiny and Discontent in the Spanish Army of Flanders"; Baumann, "Protest 
und Verweigerung in der Zeit der klassischen Soldnerheere"; Burschel, Soldner im Nordwest- 
deutschland des 76. undry.Jahrhunderts, pp. 195-198. 

81 See Sikora, Disziplin und Desertion; on desertion before the era of standing armies, see 
the contributions from Reinhard Baumann, Michael Kaiser and Peter Burschel in Brockling 
and Sikora, Armeen und ihre Deserteure; for a different viewpoint, see Muth, Flucht aus dem 
militdrischen Atltag. 

82 Sikora, Disziplin und Desertion, pp. 54f. 



The motives for desertion must be regarded as diverse, but certainly 
enforced enlistment, violent modes of training and disciplining, and contro- 
versies over the conditions of service played a major role during peacetime. 
Of course, the reasons and motives for desertion took a much more exis- 
tential shape during wartime, due to considerable physical exertion, poor 
weather conditions, the lack of maintenance, and disintegration caused by 
military defeats. But even then, at least, mutinies remained an exception. 

Therefore, on the whole, the intensified focus on desertion does not 
just indicate friction and considerable differences between the ideal of 
discipline and control and the realities of garrison life and campaigns. 
Alongside this, desertion must partly be interpreted as a reaction to, and 
an unintended result of, an increasing level of control and coercion. Thirdly, 
however, the efforts to record and to prevent desertion themselves reflect 
the increasing efficiency of control. In this sense the shift from mutinies 
to desertions can also be labelled as the individualization, isolation, and 
marginalization of refusal. 

In summary, the introduction of standing armies significantly changed 
the conditions of military service and the appearance of the soldiers. The 
permanence of the organization even during peacetime transformed 
military service into a reliable long-term, if not lifelong, occupation which, 
paradoxically, meant that fighting was not the only job undertaken by sol- 
diers. Continuous training ensured a higher level of fighting skills, although 
these skills consisted of rather simple, mechanical manual operations. One 
should also note the significantly higher level of regulation, control, and 
discipline, which were accompanied by a greater use of coercion and internal 
violence. To situate the period 1650-1750 and the central European experi- 
ence within the broader framework of military labour, however, requires 
some further discussion of basic issues, not least recruitment, for the method 
of recruitment profoundly influenced the basic constitution of the military. 

General discussion: structures of recruitment 

As outlined above, recruitment changed its shape, too. Since the concept 
of mercenary service seems to be inevitably connected with the principle 
of free contracting, the growing importance both of forced enlistment 
and of part-time soldiers such as militiamen or Kantonisten may indicate 
a possible discrepancy and the need for a reassessment of our typological 
categorization. On the one hand, one must stress the increasingly hybrid 
character of the processes of recruitment as a pronounced feature of this 


stage of the development. It is characteristic mainly because it indicates a 
crisis in the customary modes of recruitment, as described above. 

On the other hand, soldiers serving on the basis of a contract still formed 
the backbone of the armies. Of course, the increasing number of soldiers 
who were forced into a contract partly changed the face of military service 
and violated the principles of voluntary enlistment. However, it is hardly 
possible to define the forced soldiers as a new and distinctive type of mili- 
tary service. First of all, it is impossible to quantify precisely that proportion 
of the soldiers who really had volunteered, for whatever reason, how many 
of them had been duped, and how many had been forced into the army by 
other means. The number of involuntary soldiers, however defined, was 
probably significant, but there is no basis for the assumption that they 
were dominant. Rather, and more importantly, one has to assume that, 
beyond the ideal types of voluntary enlistments and enlistments forced 
by physical violence, the distinctions between voluntary and involuntary 
were quite fluid. 

At least, the military authorities did not draw any distinction and dealt 
with all the contracted soldiers according to the terms of contract or, in 
practice, according to their own view of those terms. The one-sided interpre- 
tation of military duties imposed by the authorities could add yet another 
aspect of force to the conditions of service from which all soldiers suffered 
in the same way. On the other hand, the authorities did not order or even 
legalize forced recruitments. However, they were widely tolerated. At most, 
authorities exceptionally intervened when forced recruitments caused too 
much dissent. Jurists who considered the issue dealt very cautiously with 
it. At least, the number of scholars who critically discussed the validity of 
a contract concluded by force gradually grew. 83 The crucial point was that 
the authorities insisted on high numbers of recruits with no respect to the 
actual supply on the labour market. 

Therefore, more or less inevitably, force and violence were adopted by the 
recruiting officers in times of exceptional demand. It was a means for them 
to deal with low supply, to compete with other recruiters, and to fulfil the 
demands of their superiors. This might have happened within or beyond the 
borders of the territory and therefore still resulted in individual contracts 
without systematic recourse to any general obligations of the subjects. Obvi- 
ously, these practices introduced more force into the military organizations 
and, in this sense, might be seen in parallel to the increasing importance 

83 Fichte, Die Begriindung des Militardienstverhaltnisses , pp. 123-136, correcting Sikora, 
Disziplin und Desertion, p. 222. 



of military drill. They emerged gradually as an unpremeditated corollary 
of armies' growth and, in a formal sense, still harked back to the character 
of voluntary enlistment, ending up in an individual contract. Therefore it 
seems reasonable to address these practices as an extreme or maybe even 
corrupted variety within the framework of individual engagement, at least 
intended to be voluntary. Since they were not systematically introduced, 
were without legal basis, and had no definite characteristics, they can 
hardly be analysed as a distinctive and discrete alternative principle. 

In contrast, this was definitely the case with regard to the militias. Their 
importance may be discussed in an even broader context, as possible fore- 
runners of the military draft. For example, Andre Corvisier unhesitatingly 
considered the establishment of the Royal Militia in 1688 as the start of 
the draft in France. 84 Of course, the Prussian Kantonsystem has also been 
discussed in regard to the emergence of the draft. Though a certain continu- 
ity cannot be denied - and was even emphasized by Prussian reformers at 
the beginning of the nineteenth century 85 - one should be aware that the 
system was not intended to impose military service generally across the 
board but to serve as a tool for a selective supplementation of the regiments. 
Moreover, like other militia organizations, it was embedded in a pre-modern 
society, and accordingly included a long list of exemptions from service as a 
Kantonist due to collective privileges or for economic reasons. Thus, these 
organizations were far from implementing a general and equal duty with 
all its socio-political implications. 

Even from a more pragmatic perspective one has to keep in mind that, 
in the framework of the standing armies, the militias' functions remained 
mostly subsidiary to those of the units of long-term professional soldiers. 
In most territories, militiamen, numerically, formed only a small or at least 
the smaller proportion of the military. Although militia units were used 
on the battlefield, alongside the line regiments, large-scale warfare was 
based on the standing professional army. When militias were used as pools 
for recruitment, they simply turned into a more refined option for the 
reinforcement of the standing armies. 

The example of the Prussian Kantonsystem stands out as an exception 
since the call-up of peasants established a semi-professional - or, in regard 

84 Corvisier, "Les transformations de l'armee au XVIIe siecle", p. 90. For a recent contribution 
to this debate, see Hippler, Citizens, Soldiers and National Armies, which includes considerations 
on the Royal Militia, pp. 18-23. 

85 For a discussion on tradition and innovation in regard to the Prussian military reforms, see 
Sikora, "Militarisierung und Zivilisierung", pp. 172-178; Winter, "Kontinuitat oder Neuanfang?" 



to their absence for the most part of the year, somewhat like a "quarter"- 
professional - structure as a pillar of the state's military strength. From its 
emergence, however, this system can be traced back to pragmatic solutions 
avoiding the abuses of voluntary enlistment and did not emerge from the 
militias. As mentioned above, the Prussian militias were dissolved even 
before the establishment of the Kantonsystem, since they weakened the 
number of potential recruits for the recruiters. It is also remarkable that, 
later on, the Prussian officials still fell back on the militias in times of urgent 
necessity. During the Seven Years War in particular, regional militias were 
raised. 86 As local and regional defence forces they simply performed the tra- 
ditional function of militias. In relation to the standing armies they served 
as an emergency stopgap if troops were absent and provided, in practice, 
hardly any real support for the army. The burden of strategic warfare was 
exclusively shouldered by the permanent units including the Kantonisten. 

To sum up, standing armies of this period should still be considered as 
being dominated by the principle of individual enlistment, intended to be 
voluntary. If this argument is accepted, one can describe military service 
in this period as mostly characterized by free and commodified forms of 
labour. In fact, this points to a basic similarity with the preceding forms of 
mercenary service since this maybe considered as the major manifestation of 
commodified military labour. As has been pointed out, not all military service 
was of this kind, and the principle of free and commodified labour was to some 
degree adulterated by the growing use of impressment, the incorporation of 
militiamen into the professional forces, and the hybrid type of Kantonisten. 

Nevertheless, the essence of mercenary service still was far from eroded 
altogether. Whether to still call these organizations mercenary armies or 
not depends upon one's point of view: whether one wants to stress that the 
changes around 1500 and around 1800 were much more deeply rooted and 
categorical than the changes around 1700, or whether one wants to privilege 
the differences that have been outlined on the preceding pages. The author 
would tend to stress the continuity of mercenary service; 87 although obvi- 
ously significant and profound changes of military organizations took place 
during the period under discussion, they cannot be simply described as a 
disappearance of mercenary structures. The change emerged and proceeded 
within a framework dominated by paid military service. 

86 Lampe, "Der Milizgedanke und seine Durchfiihrung in Brandenburg-PreuKen", pp. 138-148; 
Schwartz, Organisation und Verpflegung der preussischen Lanmilizen im Siebenjahrigen Krieg. 

87 For broader argumentation on the characteristics of mercenary service and its significance 
in regard to early modern military structures, see Sikora, "Soldner". 



It should be noted, however, that the concept of the mercenary, although 
the term is well established in common and scientific language, raises some 
problems. From the beginning of the early modern period, since the days 
of Machiavelli, mercenaries were the object not only of military discourse, 
but also of political and moral attributions. This was exacerbated from 
the perspective of observers looking back from the nineteenth century, 
who condemned mercenary service as a fundamental contradiction to the 
basic values of the nation-state. Even nowadays the debate on mercenaries 
depends not only on objective analysis, but also on political outlook. For 
example, modern juridical definitions of mercenaries in fact exclude such 
institutions as the French and Spanish Foreign Legions which, according to 
widespread understanding, are otherwise perceived as typical examples of 
mercenary units; the criteria of these definitions are also difficult to apply 
to an unequivocal classification of private military companies. 88 Therefore, 
the term "mercenary service" must be used with caution and reflection. 

Since the ideological components of mercenary definitions complicate 
the analytical use of the concept, the definition should be reduced to its 
crucial formal feature, which is the individual contract as the basis of a - at 
least intentional - free and commodified type of military labour. In this 
sense, the concept of mercenary service still seems the most adequate cat- 
egory for use in characterization and analysis of the dominating structure 
of military service in the eighteenth century. Thus, to discuss the transi- 
tions of mercenary armies, one has to revert to a lower level of structural 
characteristics, just to gain slightly more sophisticated arguments. Such 
arguments can be determined from the common characteristics that usu- 
ally are associated with the concept of mercenary service. 

General discussion: factors of cohesion 

One such characteristic seems to be the general understanding that merce- 
naries are basically defined by the fact that they were foreigners in relation 
to their engagement. The category of foreigner raises problems when used 

88 See, for example, Major, "Mercenaries and International Law"; recent publications onjuridi- 
cal problems concerning mercenary business include Bakker and Sossai, Multilevel Regulation 
of Military andSecurity Contractors; Francioni and Ronzitti, War by Contract; and in a historical 
context Sikora, "Soldner", pp. 2iif. The juridical framework was fixed as a resolution of the 
General Assembly of the United Nations in the International Convention against the Recruit- 
ment, Use, Financing and Training of Mercenaries, A/Res/44/34, 4 December 1989, http://www. 


in the context of the early modern period. For example, the Spanish army 
fighting against the Dutch Revolt, several decades before the era discussed 
here, was composed of a significant portion of Dutch soldiers, 89 who accord- 
ingly fought in their own homeland and for their legitimate ruling authority 
On the other hand, they were in a rather ambiguous position since they 
could also be viewed as foreign members of a foreign army Other examples 
from the Thirty Years' War, chosen at random, reveal the predominantly 
regional character of voluntary enlistment, or mercenary engagement, 
depending on the place where the recruitment was undertaken. 90 This could 
mean that large numbers of a ruler's subjects joined up when the ruler or 
his army commander decided to initiate recruitment within or close to 
the ruler's territory. 

Although the composition of armies before 1650 obviously was not of 
purely foreign origin as most definitions of mercenary would imply, it seems 
that the percentage of homeland recruits increased as a consequence of the 
establishment of standing armies; above all, as a consequence of increased 
efforts to raise recruits from the ruler's own territory. It is true that pro- 
portions varied, but nevertheless genuinely foreign recruits remained a 
significant element of armies. Change, in this respect, was more gradual 
than is suggested by those who pose a sharp dichotomy between mercenary 
and standing armies. Indeed, one may argue that although the percentage of 
domestic recruits grew significantly, this was not the defining characteristic 
of standing armies since the number of foreigners in their ranks remained 
relevant. To put it another way, this fact indicates that, in principle, the 
origin of the soldiers was still largely irrelevant. It would probably be helpful 
and adequate for analytical purposes to simply omit the criterion of origin 
for defining mercenary service, at least in regard to the early modern period, 
but this is not essential for the problems discussed here. 

A more significant change may be detected regarding the framework of 
military labour. Some aspects of this have already been alluded to earlier, 
and these can be encapsulated in the notion of uniformity. This was literally 
true concerning military dress, and nearly so for the modes of fighting 
and the body movements of the soldiers, which were intended to become 
programmed. Of course, regulations should not be mixed up with the 
reality on the battlefield, but the impact of military drill should not be 
underestimated either. Although the mercenaries of previous decades were 

89 Parker, The Army of Flanders and the Spanish Road, pp. 2jit, zyif. 

90 Burschel, Soldner im Nordwestdeutschland des r6. undij.Jahrhunderts, pp. 145-150; Kapser, 
Die bayerische Kriegsorganisation in der zweiten Halfte des Dreijiigjahrigen Krieges, pp. 250-261. 



supposed to fight as a part of a homogeneous body of soldiers, the personal 
drill created a new level of control and discipline. 

In a broader sense, a similar argument can be advanced concerning the 
relationship between soldiers and military commanders since the soldiers' 
earlier options of self-determination and protest, though they should not 
be overestimated, were weakened in favour of the total submission of the 
soldiers to the disciplinary power of their drill masters, and to a military 
justice run in the interests of the military commander. Even the fact of 
peacetime service can be interpreted as a factor leading to greater uniform- 
ity. Since the actions of mercenaries in the past had been exclusively linked 
with the conduct of war, their image, for better or worse, was dominated by 
the connotations of fighting and bravery, violence and cruelty, adventure 
and misery. The peacetime members of a standing army were much more on 
show and to a larger audience than before, but the public perceived them as 
guardsmen, as puppets on the strings of commanders, and even as earning 
money, employed not only as soldiers, but working with their own hands 
in just the same way as many others in town worked. Having a night out 
on the town with comrades and enjoying the ensuing debauchery seemed 
to be the most singular aspects of a soldier's life, but social acceptance of 
these activities depended largely on one's point of view. 

This certainly must have had consequences for the conception of the 
role of the soldiers. Recent research has done much to add to our under- 
standing of the public perception and self-perception of the mercenaries 
in their heyday in the sixteenth century, most prominently reflected and 
certainly idealized in many printed woodcuts, but also documented in 
clothes, songs, poems, plays, and (mostly very critical) treatises. 91 Comments 
from non-soldiers mostly combined criticisms of their idleness, violence, 
and immorality with a certain fascination, which seemingly fed into the 
self-perception of mercenaries, thereby helping to enhance their status as 
an order of outsiders, based on claims of a distinctive honour, autonomy, 
and extravagance as well as on superiority and a disdain for civilian life. 
Though extremely ambiguous, being a mercenary attracted a lot of attention 
and promised, if not esteem, a kind of fearful respect. 

No such claims can be asserted on behalf of the members of standing 
armies. Most obviously, these soldiers were far less attractive for artists, at 
least in the singular. The soldiers were mostly depicted as drilled puppets 
or as uniformed masses. Though they were still the object of much moral 

91 Huntebrinker, "Fromme Knechte" unci "Garteteufel", pp. 87-173; Rogg, Landsknechte unci 
Reisldufer; Burschel, Soldner im Nordwestdeutschtand cles 76. undry.Jahrhunderts, pp. 27-38. 



criticism, the most prominent attitude beyond this seems to have been pity, 
due to the poor conditions of life and demeaning discipline. A few memoirs 
reflect at best a kind of picaresque way of life, but no evidence for keeping 
the former nimbus of extravagant, though intimidating adventures. 92 

From an analytical perspective, the changes can probably best be con- 
ceived as a quantum leap in professionalization. The possibility of lifelong 
service, or at least continuous service uninterrupted by peacetime lay-offs, 
as well as newly rigorous regulation, which should not only be interpreted in 
the framework of military discipline, but also as a job description, compris- 
ing both lists of duties and special skills, contributed to shaping a daily 
working routine. Thus, the decline of public attention and attraction can 
also be understood as an aspect of the soldiers' normalization and inte- 
gration into civilian society. As a result, the mercenaries of the standing 
armies achieved a much higher level of professional standards than former 
mercenaries, who were already commonly perceived as professionals. In 
partial contrast to this chapter's emphasis on some crucial continuities, 
this reshaping of military service has also been taken as an argument to 
evaluate these changes as a categorical transformation from "mercenary" 
to "soldier". 93 In terms of soldiers' self-conception, the new standards left 
space for adopting a kind of professional self-esteem; however, there is only a 
little evidence for its real relevance. Towards the end of the century, military 
authorities tried to encourage its emergence by praise and rewards. 94 

General discussion: making a living 

As outlined above, soldiers' incomes had lost much of their appeal. This is 
of particular importance since the desire for personal gain is commonly 

92 Some of the most cited sources of this kind include Braker, Lebensgeschichte undNatiirtiche 
Ebentheuer desArmen Marines im Tockenburg;Seume,MeinLeben;Kerhr,Ausdemsiebenjahrigen 
Krieg;F[riedrich] C[hristian] Laukhards,vorzeiten Magisters der Philosophie, undjetzt Musketiers. 

93 See Burschel, "Krieg, Staat, Disziplin", based onBurschel, Soldner im Nordwestdeutschland 
des 76. und ry.Jahrhunderts. 

94 A public celebration to acclaim a Saxon non-commissioned officer for fifty years of service 
is anonymously reported in "Schilderung einer Nationalscene", Bellona (1781), pp. 89-96. Some 
memoirs can also be understood as an expression of a proud professional self-esteem, for exam- 
ple, those of a former Prussian non-commissioned officer, who had served for fifty-two years: 
see Leben und Thaten eines Preufiischen Regiments-Tambours. Certainly an extreme example, 
but nevertheless striking, is Miiller, Der wohl exercirte Preufiische Soldat, a treatise by a former 
Prussian musketeer who felt compelled to explain the principles of Prussian military training 
to the public. 



considered the exclusive motivation for mercenary service. Obviously, 
service as a member of a standing army did not offer much prospect of 
enrichment. Of course, in former times, the mercenaries' hope for wealth 
through booty had been mostly unrealized. As was pointed out above, with 
regard to material rewards, military service at least offered an alternative 
option among other occupations at the lower end of the social pyramid. In 
addition, when one considers the attractiveness of the signing-on bounty 
and the longer term prospects, there is no reason to deny that the expec- 
tation of a poor, but at least reliable livelihood may have swayed those 
contemplating service. Such considerations weighed all the more heavily 
when the soldier's comparatively stable existence is compared to the poor 
conditions in rural villages, which were always threatened by the risks of 
fluctuating crop yields. The desire for private gain was, then, most likely a 
relevant factor in motivating soldiers. 

Of course, it is impossible to gain a complete understanding of the 
soldiers' motives; this is all the more true when dealing with less obvious 
assumptions and with the question of whether the introduction of standing 
armies offered new kinds of collective motivation. There are hints of the 
importance of a certain esprit de corps, which was usually related not to 
the army as a whole, but to the regiment. 95 Of course its effects could have 
an impact only after recruitment. Certainly, the permanent existence of 
the units strengthened these effects on a smaller scale by stabilizing peer 
group structures and, on a larger scale, by grouping together icons of glory 
and tradition and transforming them into a regimental memorial culture. 
In fact, this kind of collective identity seems to have been supported by the 
military authorities and, since it corresponded to the values of noble honour 
and to the social logic of rank and reputation, it might have been the most 
typical motivational factor. In a more general sense, it can be considered a 
special mode of professional self-confidence. 

In the light of a growing percentage of native soldiers, it seems reason- 
able to assume that there was an increasing importance of some kind of 
patriotism or loyalty to the ruler or at least a certain sense of duty. Prob- 
ably, the Prussian system favoured the transfer of some provincial or even 
local identity into the army by keeping Kantonisten from the same area 

95 Nowosadtko, Stehendes Heer im Stdndestaat, pp. 90-97; Kroll, Soldaten im iS.Jahrhundert 
zwischen Friedensalltag und Kriegserfahrung, pp. 205-220; Sikora, Disziplin und Desertion, 
pp. 268-281. 


together. 96 However, since there is very little evidence on the thoughts of 
ordinary soldiers, generalized assumptions about the motivation of soldiers 
are rather speculative. 97 At the very least, it can be stated that there is no 
evidence of widespread enthusiasm for military service or of systematic 
efforts to appeal to the common people in terms of patriotic loyalty. This 
became more prominent only in later eighteenth-century discourse, but 
mostly as a debate among the elites. In summary, although the changing 
framework of military service undoubtedly influenced soldiers' motives, it 
is impossible to gain a reliable insight into these on a larger scale. Of course, 
one has to expect a certain mix of motives, and probably the changing 
composition of the armies caused an increasing variety thereof. 

General discussion: military labour and state-building 

Soldiers' motives, however, may be discussed on a broader horizon since 
the establishment of standing armies formed one aspect of an even more 
important process. From the perspective of state-building, standing armies 
represented the crucial manifestation of state structures themselves. In 
contrast, these structures definitely lacked the fully developed character 
of state authority, as long as military power could be exercised by rather 
autonomous commanders as Wallenstein or Bernhard of Saxe-Weimar, who, 
according to the work of Fritz Redlich, are usually designated as military 
enterprisers, or by high-ranking nobles in France, making use of their own 
kind of autonomy and independence. 98 However, this is not the place to 
discuss similarities or differences between figures such as Wallenstein 
and Conde. Regarding the military, the major challenge of state-building 
was the integration of more or less autonomous military structures and the 
marginalization of any form of opposing military organization. In fact, the 
establishment of standing armies reflected the establishment of a monopoly 
of violence. 

96 King Frederick II once wrote in his political testament from 1768 that the Kantonsystem 
would encourage rivalry between soldiers for a reputation for bravery and that friends and 
relatives, fighting together, would not leave each other: Dietrich, Die politischen Testamente 
der Hohenzollern, pp. 5i6f. 

97 For some reflections on this subject, see Kroll, Soldaten im i8.Jahrhundert zwischen Frieden- 
salltag und Kriegserfahrung, pp. 133-179; Sikora, Disziplin und Desertion, pp. 305-325. 

98 Lynn, Giant of the Grand Siecle, pp. 284-286; Parrott, Richelieu's Army, pp. 313-365, sees a 
strong contrast between military enterprisers and the French army, but also gives examples of 
the crucial role of the high nobility and their networks. 



Regarding the military organization itself, the contrast should not be 
stressed too sharply. The military before 1650 was not a completely private 
business. Normally, troops were raised at the level of the regiment by 
licensed colonels, who had capital and networks at their disposal to fulfil 
organizational work which, at that stage, could not be performed by the 
ruler's administration. The licence, however, included, beyond basic regula- 
tions, a commitment to the ruler as the only source of legitimate power." 
Our concept of a military enterpriser would be misleading if military 
business were to be perceived as totally independent from the framework 
of legitimate power. The princes simply could not enforce total control. On 
the other hand, even the structures of the standing armies still provided 
a certain potential for independent economy, in German armies mostly 
shifting from the level of regiments to the level of companies, forming the 
so-called Kompaniewirtschaft. 100 Certainly, colonels and captains could no 
longer act against the ruler, and most definitely had to act according to a 
more detailed set of regulations, but the regiments and companies still 
formed, if not autonomous, then self-contained units, combining training, 
economy, justice, and command, which were all in the hands of the com- 
manding officers. The regiments and the companies remained a source of 
considerable income for them. Since all sums for paying, equipping, and 
maintaining the soldiers went through their hands, based on fixed rates 
paid by the government, the colonels and captains not only took their own 
salaries but also benefited from the profits to be made from managing their 
units, whether these were legal or illicit. 101 For example, probably the most 
widely practised swindle was receiving money for soldiers who had never 
existed or who had left the unit as a result of desertion or death. 

With regard to the common soldiers, they suffered much more from the 
intensified control, as a result of greater surveillance and military discipline, 
which was discussed above and which can also be interpreted as the out- 
come of state-building. Of course, as employees, the monopoly of violence 

99 This has been recently stressed by Baumann, "Die deutschen Condottieri". In contrast 
to warlords such as Wallenstein or Bernhard of Saxe-Weimar during the Thirty Years War, 
one should also keep in mind the example of the very important Catholic general Johann 
Tserclaes Count of Tilly, who acted with extraordinary loyalty to and trust in his sovereign, 
Duke Maximilian of Bavaria: see Kaiser, Politik unci Kriegfiihrung, specifically pp. 16-23. 

100 Redlich, The German Military Enterpriser and His WorkForce, pp. 77-88. 

101 John Lynn calls the structures of the French army in the eighteenth century still a "semi- 
entrepreneurial system"; see Lynn, Battle, pp. 137-139, 361. The term was originally coined by 
David Parrott, who avoided using it in his recent works in order to stress the differences between 
French practices and German military enterprisers. 


was less relevant for them than the monopoly of employment. However, it 
is not certain whether they really profited from business competition in 
former decades and, as already mentioned, competition for recruits still took 
place in some regions and probably offered more opportunities for negotia- 
tion than before. This resulted from supply and demand, not from the fact 
that the recruiters were no longer enterprisers but government employees. 
On the other hand, the increased effectiveness of ruling elites and military 
organizations also resulted in a suspension of the market mechanisms 
through forced recruitment, as a result of which many impressed soldiers 
paid a very one-sided, existential price by suffering not only from coercion, 
but also from war injuries and death. Obviously, the high authorities were 
less engaged in disciplining such recruiting methods. Therefore, for the 
soldiers, the changes deriving from the increasing control over the military 
commanders seem to have been of less importance. 

As a result, most observations suggest considering the changes as more 
gradual than categorical. Summed up, however, the gradual changes resulted 
in a framework of military service which was substantially different from the 
preceding period, though mostly based on the same principles. As a common 
denominator, inevitably rather general and superficial, the different levels of 
change might be conceptualized as aspects of an ongoing institutionaliza- 
tion and integration of the military as a whole within the framework of 
state-building. From this perspective, the reduced autonomy of the military 
commanders and their incorporation in the corps of public servants can be 
paralleled to the intensified disciplining and uniforming of the common 
soldiers and their location in the everyday life of the garrison cities. 

Despite all the continuities, developments around the establishment 
of standing armies marked a crucial phase in European military history. 
Although drill practice had been invented several decades earlier, its imple- 
mentation as a common European feature created an outstanding attribute 
of modern military organizations as a whole. Obviously, military obligations 
imposed on the subjects became increasingly significant, although they had 
not yet became dominant and still served only subsidiary purposes, mostly 
to avoid the costs of recruitment. Nonetheless, these practices prepared the 
way for the development of the draft and seem to characterize this period as 
a stage of transition in which different principles were combined. However, 
instead of reducing this era to a prelude not yet determined, it might be 
more adequate to perceive it as the unfolding of options in the course of 
emerging state power. Not surprisingly, the reasons and motives for this 
dynamic process have attracted much scholarly attention. The debate was 



significantly shaped by Michael Roberts's concept of a "military revolution". 10Z 
This is not the place to either sum up the whole controversial debate or to 
reinvent the answers. Some aspects of the debate, however, will help to put 
the changes in an evolutionary context. 

According to the original concept, the military revolution was completed 
just before the spread of standing armies, but these were still perceived as 
an outcome of the revolution, flanked by the strengthening and centraliza- 
tion of political power to provide the required resources. The roots of this 
process were traced back to the tactical reforms at the end of the sixteenth 
century. The main thesis, therefore, was aimed at the assumption that not 
only military changes, but also major social and political developments, 
were initiated by genuine military innovations. These started with a new 
tactic and in addition were fuelled by the new scale of strategic warfare 
during the Thirty Years War, characterized by long-range campaigns and 
the need for numerous occupational forces. This should have resulted in 
the need for more soldiers. 

One may object that the main example, the campaigns of Gustav Adolf, 
were noteworthy due to the constraints, from the Swedish perspective, 
of a quasi-overseas theatre of war, and that subsequent wars did not see 
comparable strategic efforts. On a more general level, it has to be considered 
that the appetite for a growing number of soldiers may have been motivated 
by even simpler arguments: since technological means were rather limited 
in their impact, military superiority normally was achieved by larger armies. 
From this point of view, the more crucial change must be considered the 
previous replacement of feudal armies by mercenary armies, the expansion 
of which was only limited by the need for money, while feudal structures 
had restricted at least the core of military power to the limited number 
of more or less obstinate nobles. The further development seems to have 
been mostly, although certainly not solely, dependent on the government's 
increasing possibility to absorb resources. 

Certainly, the Dutch reforms implemented an important additional 
aspect. Originally introduced to compensate for the numerical inferiority 
of the Dutch forces, the result of the reforms turned out to be a significant 

102 Roberts, The Military Revolution, 7560-1660; since then, the concept of a "military revolution" 
has been firmly established in academic curricula, but has also been widely and critically 
discussed and, on the other hand, expanded to other periods and to other parts of the world, so 
that it has rather lost its significance. Classical critics include Parker, The Military Revolution, 
and Black, A Military Revolution? See now Black, Beyond the Military Revolution. Other recent 
publications referring to the catchword include Knox and Murray, The Dynamics of Military 
Revolution, 1300-2050, and Nimwegen, The Dutch Army and the Military Revolutions 1588-1688. 


increase in military effectiveness. After this time, the value of soldiers 
could be measured not only by their number, but also by the quality of 
their training. Therefore, preparing the military forces before the start 
of war became an inevitable prerequisite for military effectiveness and 
consequently resulted in standing armies. Even then, sheer superiority of 
numbers did not ensure success on the battlefield, as the remarkable victory 
of inferior forces, such as the Prussians' at the battle of Leuthen in 1757, 
indicates. 103 However, such instances did not encourage the king of Prussia 
or other rulers to reduce their forces by replacing quantity with quality. 

A short remark must support the assertion that technological innova- 
tion was of less importance, since the seventeenth century saw two major 
changes. This was the replacement of matchlock guns with flintlock guns, 
which were easier to handle, and the total abandonment of pikes in favour of 
the exclusive use of guns, which could be adapted to hand-to-hand combat 
by the use of the newly invented bayonet. Certainly, the disappearance of 
the pike marked a watershed of great symbolic meaning since it represented 
the triumph of gunpowder weapons. This story, however, covers at least two 
centuries, step by step, and was not completed until the beginning of the 
eighteenth century. 104 It is noteworthy that, during the eighteenth century 
bayonet attacks - thus the use of the reduced, but much more manageable 
version of pikes - in fact could become decisive on the battlefield. 105 Though 
it was accompanied by tactical changes, the final abandonment of pikes 
did not indicate a technological revolution, nor does it offer explanations 
for the arms race at the end of the seventeenth century. 

This seems also to be true in regard to the growing importance of the 
artillery in the eighteenth century. Due to technological changes, which 
made cannons more mobile on the battlefield, and the corresponding tacti- 
cal changes, the artillery's role was subsequently transformed from a merely 
subsidiary one to having a crucial, though not yet decisive, importance of 
its own. 106 Although the intensified use of artillery caused considerable losses 
and suffering, it still did not modify the efforts to produce the highest pos- 
sible number of soldiers nor did it affect the basic structural characteristics 
of military service. 

103 As a sceptical approach to a rather mystifying event, see Kroener, "Die Geburt eines Mythos 
- die 'schiefe Schlachtordnung'". 

104 See, among others, Black, European Warfare 1660-1875, p. 39; Luh, Ancien Regime Warfare 
and the Military Revolution, p. 139. 

105 Luh, Ancien Regime Warfare and the Military Revolution, pp. 156-160. 

106 Ibid., pp. 167-178. 



The essential precondition for the quantum leap in army strength was the 
strengthening of centralized political power and intensified accumulation 
of resources. The military development reflected, and was closely connected 
to, a restructuring of governance, pushed forward by the experiences and 
the results of the Thirty Years War, including a new framework for state 
rivalry In different ways, at different moments, and with different degrees 
of success, but focused on a few decades, rulers profited from the defeat of 
their enemies, the breaking of opposition, the weakening of participatory 
elites, the establishment of consensual policies in favour of external compe- 
tition, and, last but not least, the amelioration of confessional antagonisms. 
In this sense, it has been suggested that the Thirty Years War enjoys real 
significance as a state-building war. 107 

The stabilization of internal hierarchies and administrative structures 
enabled governments to draw conclusions from the rather improvised 
handling of warfare during the war, including military strength, tactical 
innovations, control and efficiency of the military, and discipline of the 
common soldier - all the aspects discussed above. The ongoing conflicts 
over hegemony on the continent, the Baltic, and the Balkans compelled 
all participants to reach comparable levels of operational readiness and 
accelerated the spread of standing armies. Therefore, they represented both 
the slowdown of internal rivalries and a certain acceleration of external 
rivalries. The spending of most resources on the needs of the military 
pushed the soldiers into the centre of this process. In fact, one may assert 
that they were the most intensively governed section of the population. It is 
no wonder that they also became a symbolic medium to express the ruler's 
power and sovereignty (and in a certain sense, condensed in parades and 
guards of honour, they have kept this meaning until today). The quality of 
change in terms of the political framework can be paralleled, in some way, to 
the changes in military organization as an essential part of this framework. 

However, although the institutionalization of governmental power 
reached new heights of efficiency and stability, some basic elements stayed 
the same. The revolution had not yet arrived. Most people were still governed 

107 This point mainly follows the arguments of Black, A Military Revolution?, pp. 67-77, including 
aspects of changes in the sphere of political constitution and the socio-political role of the 
elites. In this wide sense, the category of state-building wars was elaborated by Burkhardt, 
Der Dreijiigjahrige Krieg, in nuce on p. 27. This perspective also touches on the debate on the 
fiscal-military state, which was brought up by Brewer, The Sinews of Power. See also Storrs, The 
Fiscal-Military State in Eighteenth Century Europe, and Glete, War and the State in Early Modern 
Europe; however, the complexities of this approach cannot be discussed and included at this 



by dynasties from the high nobility whose attitudes towards the military 
forces were not substantially different from those of former monarchs. The 
augmentation of army strength and the extension of compulsory service 
resulted from the intensified power of governments to intervene in their 
citizens' lives and was not paralleled by a newly defined and founded 
relationship between subjects and state. 

Therefore, it remained a maxim of ruling and of warfare that the soldier's 
role was still a functional one based on payment and force. There was a 
closely connected political implication, namely that these armies were at 
the disposal of monarchs and ministers, instruments of their ambitions and 
interests, and deployed within the context of cabinet warfare. To continue 
the metaphorical framework, the soldiers served as hired or forced construc- 
tion workers in the building of the state, at best being inhabitants without 
rights; they were in no way co-proprietors. 

Peasants fighting for a living in early 
modern North India 


It is several years since historians have abandoned the idea of medieval 
and early modern India as a huge but static collection of economically self- 
sufficient and politically autonomous village units. With respect to large parts 
of India, another image has taken its place, that of a dual world, composed 
on the one hand of a sedentarized segment of settled, rain-fed agriculture 
and, on the other, one of mobile pastoralism in the arid half of the Indian 
subcontinent. The frontier between these worlds ran right across the sub- 
continent, though, rather than one frontier, the phenomenon consisted of 
a complex set of frontiers, frontier zones, and dynamic "inner frontiers" of 
exchange, intrusion, and negotiation linking and holding together vast regions 
bordering on them. In accepting this model, it should be noted that, on the 
one hand, cattle-based economies never existed independently from town 
and village markets, while, on the other hand, the political management of 
settled agriculture could not do without alliances with, or appeasement and 
employment of, pastoral warriors. On a more local level, village management 
often depended on either an annual exodus of seasonal labour and herders to 
grazing grounds during the post-harvest season or the engagement of mobile 
frontier manpower from outside during the busiest months of the year. Mobile 
labour, therefore, did not generally lack an agrarian base of some sort; neither 
were villagers unacquainted with faraway service, whether as weavers, herd- 
ers, soldiers, or agricultural labourers. Also, a village's temporary diaspora 
would, if it appeared attractive to do so, lead to entire families settling down 
permanently in regions near or far. Landed communities would welcome 
in their midst families of relative strangers with their ploughs (a term for 
a pair of bullocks) from either the pastoral or the sedentarized worlds and 
integrate them in their systems of exchange of produce and division of labour. 
Military entrepreneurship by warlords often led to agrarian management 
rights in a number of villages (watari), mostly in or near their home region, 
being granted to them and their fighting men. More often than not, in one 



way or another, soldiering was an activity directly or indirectly supportive of 
agrarian pursuits. 1 

This is especially the case in northern India, the part of the subconti- 
nent to which my contribution restricts itself, just as the essay by Robert 
Johnson focuses on southern India. For North India, it makes sense to 
think in terms of a market for diasporic or mobile labour as an almost 
autonomous phenomenon kept in existence by the dynamics of the frontier 
that linked the worlds of extensive agriculture and pastoralism, and by the 
demographic cycles in non-capitalist village economies primarily focusing 
on production for home consumption.* That labour market, as well as the 
ecological exchanges of produce and animal husbandry, played a crucial 
role in the survival strategies of peasants and cattle farmers, always looking 
for secure labour conditions under circumstances of unpredictable harvests 
or supplies of food. It had a major impact on the formation of patronage 
networks and political entrepreneurship or "states" at the regional and 
local levels. The migratory and frontier cultures of India's villages and 
regions constitute the great machine of much of the subcontinent's social 
history. Neither can its political history be fully understood without taking 
account of its dynamics. Every year, people would look for new niches in 
the labour markets within their migratory reach on both sides of the divide 
between agriculture and cattle farming, thus causing the cogwheels of the 
great frontier machine to change gear according to seasonal patterns. The 
intensity of the process varied at different times and in different places. Its 
professional categories - agricultural, industrial, commercial, or military - 
were not closed compartments. Weavers could turn into peasants and vice 
versa; both professions required a degree of mobility and, therefore, training 
in the use of arms. Military labour could be seasonal and dependent on a 
surplus or deficiency of farm hands at home. Yet, many men spent decades 
as professional soldiers, most of them never giving up hope of one day 
returning home to their fields or acquiring an agrarian living. To keep such 
options open and thus to be able to continue contributing to the economy 
of one's home villages or clan area formed an essential part of a migrant's 
culture of survival. 

When considering how, in pre-modern Indian history, states and regional 
identities were "forged", the issue of the management of internal frontiers 
and labour markets, including the military labour market, will always be 

1 Gommans, Mughal Warfare; for a map of the major ecological frontiers see, p. n. On the 
centrality of watan, see Gordon, "Symbolic and Structural Constraints". 

2 See for such economies Thorner et at, A.V. Chayanov on the Theory of Peasant Economy. 



at the centre of the analysis. Taking as his point of departure the agrarian/ 
pastoralist order of India, Jos Gommans has turned on its head, as it were, 
our understanding of the geo-political, ecological, and human-resource 
basis of the Mogul empire. Similarly, in a brilliant recent book on medieval 
Gujarat, Samira Sheikh has shown the explanatory force of a focus on the 
"continually contested relationship" between the arid, largely pastoralist 
Saurashtra peninsula and the fertile agricultural and trading plains of the 
eastern mainland. 3 

So, regional and central state-formation in India was to a large extent 
(though perhaps less so e.g. in Bengal) an effort to establish control over 
the dynamics engendered by the subcontinent's climatic and ecological 
frontiers. Yet, historical experience seems to prove that this regionally 
segmented military labour market could not in itself serve as a decisive base 
for the creation of a larger empire. In his contribution to our project, Kaushik 
Roy shows that, when such empires nonetheless came into being, the initial 
impulse often came from outside the world of peasant and regionally based 
soldiering. During the two periods of Indian empire-building that fall within 
our time scheme, i.e. those of the Moguls and the British, India's pattern 
of peasant soldiering - i.e. its main market for military labour - though 
remaining intact, fulfilled very different functions. Under the Moguls, it 
was temporarily suppressed and lost its prominence to non-Indian, mostly 
tribal professionals. This explains why, for too long, as Stewart Gordon has 
argued, historians focused on the empire's mansabdari (service nobility) 
system, thus neglecting "the ordinary, ongoing processes of military service 
in India", which often were village-based or predicated on regionally rooted 
labour markets. 4 The vitality of these processes was clear again, when, 
after a very gradual re-emergence during the seventeenth and eighteenth 
centuries, the British, though thoroughly reorganizing it, embraced its 
tradition of professional service and built their Indian empire on it. 

In the course of the sixteenth century, the military system of the imperial 
Moguls was, as it were, superimposed on this tradition by the Central Asian 
conqueror Babur (in Delhi 1526-1530) and his grandson Akbar (effectively 
1568-1605). The core of this system consisted of the descendants of the old 
Turkic and Mongol nomadic warriors from the deep steppe who were born 

3 Gommans, Mughal Warfare; Sheikh, Forging a Region, p. 19. An example of an even smaller- 
scale frontier is that between the khadar flood-prone lowlands and the bangar uplands of the 
Upper (Ganga-Yamuna) Doab, the management of which formed the basis of the eighteenth- 
century Gujar states in the area. See Kolff, Grass in Their Mouths, pp. 471-477. 

4 Gordon, "Symbolic and Structural Constraints", p. 159. 



and raised as horse-breeders, and trained from early childhood as mounted 
archers and raiders in Central Asia. 5 Provided they were accompanied by 
cannon, musketry, and heavy cavalry, this arm of light cavalry with their 
composite bows fired from the saddle and their stunningly swift horseman- 
ship was irresistible on the battlefields of North India and indispensable 
for those striving for empire at the time. 6 

Demography, technology, and invasion, in short, were the main deter- 
minants of the role of military labour in post-1500 India. The vicissitudes of 
empire continued to have a bearing on the character and military impact 
of frontier-based peasant recruitment and service. During the sixteenth 
century, mounted archers still contributed in a decisive manner to the 
conquests of the Moguls in North India. With more success than some of 
his predecessors, Akbar overlaid this system on the tradition of peasant 
soldiering of Hindustan, the central part of the great alluvial plain of North 
India. My essay focuses on this tradition and I will try to show how, under 
different guises, it remained a constant force in medieval and early modern 
Indian history. Its dynamics continued to an important degree to be fed 
by the survival strategies of a peasantry that was compelled to contend 
with the exceptional vagaries of the monsoon as it manifests itself north 
of the Tropic of Cancer. As always, peasants responded to the insecurity 
of harvests by investing in non-agricultural pursuits such as soldiering. 
This kind of soldiering was, in other words, a voluntary one, energized in a 
bottom-up manner by a demand for a source of non-agrarian income that 
would spread one's risks and underpin an economy based on inherently un- 
stable family farms. In a characteristically Indian way, the entrepreneurship 
of brokers who were in a position to negotiate deals with distant warlords 
and thrones, whether they were clan leaders or independently operating 
jobber-commanders, so-called jamadars, was crucial in the process. 7 

The Mogul system, therefore, was a complex one. It was, moreover, not an 
unchanging one, if only because the Indian enemies of the empire adopted 
some of its techniques, even mounted archery, though a less thoroughly 
trained version of it, and found answers to the challenges it posed. Mean- 
while, the supply of accomplished archers from the Central Asian steppes 
came almost to a halt. Other weapons came to the fore. During the sixteenth 

5 On the technique of horse and bow and their effect in battle, see Hildinger, Warriors of the 
Steppe, pp. 15-32; on the coherence of the Mongol system, see May, The Mongol Art of War. 

6 For Mogul military superiority in India, see Streusand, The Formation of the Mughal Empire, 
pp. 51-69. 

7 The jamadars can be seen as performing the characteristically India function of dalali, the 
Indian term for brokerage in its widest sense. 



century, Mogul artillery arsenals developed and grew. The fighting reputa- 
tion of musketeers improved as the accuracy of their fire increased; they 
became a valuable tool in the hands of the central state. Already under 
Akbar, attempts were made to keep expert units of foot-musketeers under 
strict central control and keep them away from the nobles. Then, gradually, 
the broad-based North Indian military labour market - its demographic 
resources so much richer than those of the steppes - reasserted itself and 
re-emerged as a vital resource of the state, even of the empire. During 
Jahangir's reign (1605-1627) Hindustani peasant infantry became strikingly 
visible again in the sources. 

At that time, those available for longer or shorter periods for employ- 
ment as foot-soldiers in the military labour markets of the subcontinent, 
whether all-India, regional or local, cannot have represented less than 10 
per cent of the adult male population. It was clear that the empire would 
not have the means to employ a sufficient number of these units and to 
disarm the rest. 8 Crucial in this respect was the increasing dissemination 
of the comparatively affordable matchlock among groups of professional 
foot-archers and many other communities of armed peasants. This phenom- 
enon could not but weaken imperial control over North India, especially 
in the central part of it, Hindustan. Though men armed with swords and 
shields successfully continued to offer themselves for hire, many villagers 
equipped themselves with firearms, resulting in a newly vibrant labour 
market for peasantry-based infantry. The empire never found an answer to 
the challenges it posed. It has been suggested that the segmentary nature 
of Mogul military organization and its policy of delegating authority to 
employer-noblemen called mansabdars, hampered the "formation of a 
kind of army in which arms of musketeers and artillery were given their 
due", and that a large-scale adoption of the flintlock - which could not, as 
the matchlock was, be manufactured by village blacksmiths - would have 
been possible only when the empire itself had taken up the production of 
superior firearms. Technology, however, stagnated, while attempts by the 
Mogul court to prevent local blacksmiths from making muskets were late 
and failed. 9 The massive presence of firearms in the villages turned the 

8 Kolff, Naukar, Rajput & Sepoy, p. 3. 

9 M. Athar Ali, The Mughal Nobility Under Aurangzeb, rev. edn (Delhi, 1997), p. xx, cited 
by Khan, Gunpowder and Firearms, p. 155. On the importance of the "segmented structure 
of political control which favoured military units which, in terms of command and control, 
approximated to war bands rather than to a disciplined army" in India, see Wickremesekera, 
"Best Black Troops in the World", p. 34. 



agrarian crises of the second half of the seventeenth century into as many 
explosive challenges to the empire. 

So, as after the reign of Akbar, matchlocks spread in the countryside, and 
the conditions for the development of an imperial army equipped with flint- 
locks and cast-iron cannon, which would have kept the Moguls in control, 
remained unfulfilled. It was only during the second half of the eighteenth 
century that several of the Indian regional rulers established foundries 
capable of producing cast-iron guns. Some also began using flintlocks 
and hired European officers to command battalions thus equipped and 
trained, a development that has been said to represent an "Indian military 
revolution". 10 But, as Iqtidar Alam Khan writes, it was not enough: "in the 
absence of a concerted drive to modernize the entire army organization", 
it did not prevent the formation, by another outsider, the British East India 
Company, of another Indian empire. This new empire, however, unlike the 
Mogul one, was predominantly based on the indigenous agrarian labour 
market of North India and on the Company's drive towards a degree of 
organization, technological advance, and discipline that the Moguls had 
not been able to achieve. 11 

Long before the British conquests, therefore, military initiative had 
shifted from the Mogul mansabdars to patrons, political entrepreneurs, 
and jobber-commanders with close and efficient links to the supplies of 
peasant labour in the central provinces of the empire. In due course, the 
crucial brokerage and recruitment of peasant soldiers from the core region 
of Hindustan, which had, in a number of cases, been handled by clan leaders 
with both local roots and strong links with the emperor, came into the 
hands of numberless independently operating jobbers (jamadars) with 
strong local links and great freedom of negotiating their terms of service. 
The increasing monetization of the economy may have had a certain role 
in the process, though the circulation of silver was already significant in 
Akbar's time. 

Especially in Hindustan, the demographic factor of the dynamics and the 
almost limitless supply of armed peasants, as demonstrated in a frightening 
manner by the late sixteenth-century military census ordered by Akbar, 
had a decisive role in the slow loss of grip and initiative of the Moguls. But 
not only there. Further south, in Malwa and in Deccan, in the seventeenth 
and eighteenth centuries, as Gordon has shown, village and regionally based 

10 Wickremesekera, "Best Black Troops in the World", p. 66. 

n For the ideas set out in the preceding three paragraphs, see especially Khan, Gunpowder 
and Firearms, pp. 143-199. 



troops of cavalry in search of patronage, watan, and pay represented a fight- 
ing tradition that similarly continued as a high-prestige, high-pay branch 
of military service, entirely independent of the Mogul and Turkic cavalry 
tradition. The case proves abundantly that by no means all agrarian-based 
military service took the form of foot-soldiering. 12 Even in North India, 
this was not the case. Yet, in this essay, partly because it will allow me to 
carry the story into the British period, I will stick to North India and, more 
specifically, to the example of Hindustani infantrymen. 

Families rooted in (semi-)pastoral India, like nomads elsewhere, were, as 
noted, compelled to adopt flexible survival strategies. Baluchi cameleers, for 
instance, found employment as armed guards with caravan leaders on the 
main Gujarat-to-Hindustan routes. Many of them were archers, although 
some had swords and acquired firearms at an early stage. One seventeenth- 
century European observer found them an unruly lot and warned against 
engaging Baluchis and Jats simultaneously as one's protectors, as they would 
tend to attack each other instead of working together. Another found that in 
the Gujarati diaspora and towards Agra there were many honest men among 
them. For travellers, they were essential. They cost 3.5 rupees a month; 
their leaders, styled muqaddam (a term also used for village leaders) or 
mirdah, received 4 rupees and travelled with their men. Not only did they 
conduct caravans: between Gujarat and Hindustan, almost anyjourney was 
inconceivable without them. Bands of them were easily hired in towns or 
qasbas (market towns) along the road. There they had labour agents who 
answered for their honesty and received 1 rupee for each contracted man. As 
others with pastoralist origins did, many of them joined the regional military 
labour market of Gujarat under the denomination of qasbatis (townsmen) 
and, it appears, acquired some land. The Mirdt-i Ahmadi says about their 
activities in the service of the province of Gujarat in the eighteenth century: 

They attacked villages, drove away cattle, escorted Mughal officials, 
took responsibility of collecting tribute from landholders on a small 
salary, they got enlisted as recruits in the army for a few days, served 
the chiefs and inspectors of the district police. 

Generally reluctant to serve outside Gujarat, some of them nevertheless 
tried their luck in other provinces and "made bravery their profession". 13 
Direct employment by the empire could lead to the grant of land, even 

12 Gordon, "Symbolic and Structural Constraints". 

13 Kolff, Naukar, Rajput & Sepoy, pp. 4-6. 



of entire villages. Aurangzeb, for instance, gave nine villages in the old 
Saharanpur district north of Delhi to a number of such Baluchis on the 
condition that they exterminate the numerous highway robbers in that 
part of the country. This made sense. Safety on the roads had all alongbeen 
their speciality. Here, in Saharanpur, they remained powerful throughout 
the eighteenth century and, when the East India Company took over the 
Upper Doab from the Marathas, the land revenue of the villages concerned 
was settled with the Baluchi chiefs. 14 The pattern was a common one. Clans 
must, writes Sheikh, often be seen "in terms of their changing occupations". 
"Groups that entered Gujarat as pastoralists could settle down to become 
cultivators while small bands of forest-dwelling cultivators could achieve 
military successes and become chieftains." 15 

The above case of the Baluchis, who, apparently, offered their labour 
in a purely free and commodified form, may serve as an example of the 
social and spatial mobility that was typical of North India in the early 
modern period and in which the military labour market played such a 
dynamic role. The military entrepreneurship of the Baluchis - who turned 
into travel guards, then town-based fighters, regional and imperial profes- 
sional soldiers, landowners-cum-policemen, and finally village managers 
in British-ruled India - is just an illustration of the kind of flexible oc- 
cupational genealogy Sheikh draws attention to. It is important to note 
that, as the quote from the Mirdt-iAhmadi showed, the military culture of 
these groups of men was always one of negotiation and of keeping several 
options for economic survival open. This attribute would, over the centuries, 
remain a distinguishing feature of the political culture of North India, 
where, more than in western Europe, the climate, i.e. the monsoon, was 
fickle and harvests unpredictable. One hesitates, however, to label these 
pastoralists looking for watan, on the basis of their continuous search for 
the best terms of service and employment, as "mercenaries", which is a term 
that seems to have little meaning before the age of nationalist politics and 
the love of a "fatherland". 

There were, especially in the world of settled agriculture, many instances 
in which peasants, though as skilled in the use of arms as most life-long 
soldiers and, therefore, fit to move and enter the all-India labour market, 
were never under the necessity to leave home for long periods or fight over 
other than local issues. Local issues there were many. It was impossible 

14 F.C. Smith, Mag. Saharanpur, to Sadr Nizamat Adalat, 4.3.1824; Bengal Criminal Judicial 
Proceedings, Western Provinces, 13.10.1825 no. 13, reply paras 569-594. 

15 Sheikh, Forging a Region, p. 104. 



to retain the respect of and to keep going the negotiations with armed 
travellers, hostile neighbours, or the representatives of government itself 
without a readiness to risk armed conflict. When, in 1717, a Dutch East 
India Company caravan was attacked in Malwa by 2,000 people armed with 
muskets and 3,000 others, the Dutch merchant in charge described these 
men as "peasants". Soldiers employed by traders often plundered along the 
way. In this case, it seems, the suffering villagers responded to such acts of 
violence by staging a looting counter-offensive of their own. In 1632, men 
working the fields near Kanpur in Hindustan did so with their guns, swords, 
and shields lying nearby, because they were at variance with the people of 
a town half a mile away. And around 1650 in the nearby Agra area, where 
every village had a small fort, semi-rebellion was endemic. The ploughmen 
kept a musket slung on their back and a powder pouch at their waist. It was 
the heyday of empire. Yet, the landowners never paid revenue without a 
fight. Their strong negotiating position vis-a-vis the local governor enabled 
them to have the relief loans (taqavi) they received from him after a bad 
harvest converted into supplies of lead and gunpowder. But even without 
the threatening presence of hostile outsiders, carefully measured dosages 
of violence were a necessary part of agrarian management. Armed gangs of 
rural stakeholders were a phenomenon inseparable from the country scene. 

The martial skills of these men were essential survival tools, however, 
in other than strictly local circumstances. In combination with forms of 
small-scale migration, the use of force was often an integral part of the an- 
nual agrarian cycle. Seasonal soldiering or looting enabled quite a number 
of people in town and countryside to survive the slack agricultural season. 
In August 1636, soon after the onset of the monsoon, partly because the 
rains made the roads impassable, plundering ceased on the roads of Gujarat; 
the peasants returned to their fields. Similarly, the weavers of the town of 
Baroda in the 1620s, who were generally at home during the rainy season, 
went to serve in the provincial army in the dry months of the year. In times 
of dearth or famine, this occupational and spatial mobility of labour was the 
rule rather than the exception and must have saved many lives. No doubt, 
most of these men were fit to enter the regional or all-India military labour 
markets. Yet only a limited number of them did so. 16 

More often than not, rather than offering their services to one of the 
states in their region, they confronted them. It is striking how frequently 
we hear of village soldiers attacking state soldiers. Whenever the risks 

16 Kolff, Naukar, Rajput & Sepoy, pp. 4f£, 16. For some more examples, see Khan, Gunpowder 
and Firearms, pp. 178-180. 



seemed worth taking, peasants resisted and fell on intruders who, from 
their point of view, were mere mercenaries, though perhaps they had an 
agrarian base somewhere far away just as they themselves had one nearby. 
They attacked army units campaigning far from their barracks, and fugitive 
soldiers making their way from a battlefield. In the latter case, great loot 
often fell into the villagers' hands. Thus, in the early sixteenth century, the 
great Rana Sanga's camp was once plundered by villagers in the Agra area. 
And after Sultan Khusru, Akbar's son, had been defeated in the Punjab in 
1606, peasants killed most of the leaderless soldiers they could lay their 
hands on and captured all the prince's horses, camels, and other animals. 
There are examples of villagers closing their market to units of the imperial 
army or defending local merchants badly treated by their governor. The 
sources mention dozens of such instances. On a battlefield, peasants could 
even be a significant factor without being recruited by either side. During 
his years in India early in the nineteenth century, Arthur Wellesley had 
learned that, if you moved after your enemy with "celerity" and sufficiently 
distressed him, armed peasants could help you a great deal. "Whenever the 
largest and most formidable bodies of [freebooters] are hard pressed by our 
troops, the village people attack them upon their rear and flanks, cut off 
stragglers, and will not allow a man to enter their villages." 17 

In principle, of course, these men were martial and mobile enough 
to make fighting their entire living. During Akbar's siege of Chittor in 
Rajasthan in 1568, the fort was defended, Abu'l Fazl says, by 8,000 Rajput 
warriors and some 40,000 peasants who showed "great zeal and activity". 
This widespread participation in the resistance against Akbar's aggression 
made him, according to the same source, decide to have nearly 30,000 of 
the defenders killed on the day the fortress fell, which he would not have 
done, one assumes, if he had thought them a negligible military presence. 18 
These people were fit for service almost everywhere. When the rains and 
harvests failed, in cases of flood or unbearable devastations of war, many 
would leave their homes and look for work, whether weaving, ploughing, 
or military, wherever there was food and a demand for their services. In 
more or less normal years, on the other hand, the range of mobility of the 
sedentarized part of the people remained limited in practice, even though 
some of the young men, hearing of great prizes being won by others in 
faraway lands, felt a pull to leave and try their luck. For most of them, 

17 James, Wellington at War 1794-1815, p. 103. 

18 See Kolff, "Chittor". 



however, the issue of whether to serve any other leaders than their own 
local or regional clansmen did not arise. Why was this so? 

The reason was that without intermediary agency most armed peasants 
had no access to military service at the level of the great regional states 
or at that of the empire. And successful agency was rare. The survival 
strategies of the state - whether that of the Moguls, their rivals, or their 
predecessors - and that of the peasantries seemed mutually antagonistic. 
Confrontation was the rule. There are instances where that confrontation 
induced a kind of migration or diaspora of its own. In Hindustan, the great 
fertile region between the Punjab and Bengal dominated by the rivers Ganga 
and Yamuna that constituted the core of the market for peasant military 
labour in India, the encounter of the peasantry and the state exacerbated 
during the 1620s and 1630s and led to regular enslavement, deportation, and 
extermination. It is reported that Abdullah Khan Firuz Jang, then in charge 
of the Kalpi-Kanauj region, defeated all the hitherto unsubdued Chauhan 
rajas and rebels there, had the leaders beheaded, and the peasants' wives, 
daughters, and children, some 200,000 of them, transported to Iran and sold 
there. Abdullah Khan himself boasted he had sold half a million women and 
men. Large numbers of them, also from other areas, were deported across 
the Indus, while Afghans were forced, though not as slaves, to move in the 
other direction to the plains. Certainly, Abdullah Khan was more given to 
tyrannical methods of pacification than most of his contemporaries. But 
the spirit of resistance to taxation of many peasant communities in the 
strategic or core areas of state-building convinced not a few rulers that 
only desperately stern measures would work. Another aspect of this is the 
urgent demand for peasants and artisans in Iran and Central Asia, where 
many of those deported by the state must have been employed, as were 
the 120 slaves - tillers of grain, diggers of canals for irrigation, bronze and 
metal workers, a potter, a cook, a tinker, and a bowl maker, "fathers, sons 
and grandsons [...] all Hindustanis", who were employed on an estate near 
Bukhara towards the end of the fifteenth century. 19 

Such attempts to smother the martial energies of semi-pastoral agrar- 
ian Hindustan could give only temporary relief to the imperial rulers of 
the alluvial plains. If the Mogul empire was aiming to transform itself 
according to "early modern" military-fiscalist principles, which it did to 
an extent, the systematic deportation of potential taxpayers would have 
been an irrational policy. But any other attempt at actually disarming the 

19 Chekhovich, Samarkandskie dokumenti, XV-XVIvv, pp. 172, 233-234; Kolff, Naukar, Rajput 
& Sepoy, pp. i2ff. 



countryside would, as we saw, be equally impractical. Only the British 
Company would, in the 1798 to 1818 period, achieve something approaching 
the demilitarization, though not the disarmament, of its Indian territories. 
The Mogul empire, in other words, never adequately overcame the problem 
of its being faced not with just recalcitrant individual landholders, but also 
with armed peasantries that represented the backbone of society and could 
not be destroyed without dire consequences to the agrarian productivity 
on which the regime depended for its survival. 

Another course open to state-builders was to selectively seek alliances in 
the evolving world of pastoralist warlords and to invite to military service 
some of the migrant bands of warriors in search of patronage and marriage 
such as were always active on the borders of settled agriculture. 20 In return 
for local revenues they could be entrusted with the pacification of turbulent 
territory, so that, if successful, they would have the choice of opting for a 
sedentary way of life. A provincial Mogul force, sent against uncooperative 
taxpayers in Gujarat in 1684, included "a numberless multitude of men of 
the country, consisting of Grasiyas and Kolis, who are tillers of the soil but 
follow the army by command in exchange for freedom of tribute; as they 
receive nothing for food, they keep themselves going mostly by theft". To 
the state, the local knowledge of such men was valuable; they were also 
cheap. But their looting for a living could do more harm than good. They 
certainly partook of the quality that marginal people generally have from 
a military point of view: semi-pastoralist robbers and men from the hills 
and forests make excellent skirmishers against similar types of fighters. 
Though alliances with such groups were part of one of the central aspects 
of state formation, namely the effort to establish control over the dynamics 
of the major ecological frontiers, these men might not easily be turned into 
units sufficiently dependable for use on a major battlefield. Nonetheless, 
such men were often enlisted and proved useful. 

As hinted at, there were yet other strategies open to men who aspired 
to build an early modern territorial polity. There was indeed no way the 
Mogul government could do without the help of Indian chiefs and patrons, 
especially those with access to units of peasant fighters. It was crucially 
important to find the right agency that enabled the recruitment as infantry 
from the peasantries of a significant and well-selected number of those one 
could not otherwise control. This policy was successful to an extent. Before 
and during the late seventeenth-century "agrarian crisis" of North India 
that would to a large extent be induced by increasing state oppression and 

20 Ziegler, "Marvari Historical Chronicles". 



agrarian overtaxation and would, in Irfan Habib's words, render the Mogul 
dynasty, at least partly, "its own grave-digger", the empire co-opted some 
of the best managed resources of the armed peasantry. 21 

From early on, an important role was played in Mogul armies by semi- 
migratory professional peasant soldiers, often under the command of their 
own zamindars (agrarian territorial managers). 22 Akbar's famous military 
census of the realm dating from the 1590s resulted in the registration of a 
staggering 4 million armed zamindars' foot-soldiers. This inventory of North 
India's military labour market betrays the empire's uneasy awareness of the 
impossibility of controlling its peasants or employing more than a fraction 
of them. 23 The phenomenon of a state aspiring to a monopoly over the instru- 
ments of coercion on its territory is foreign to Indian history. The negotiating 
position of some of the leaders of these village-based infantrymen was 
generally far stronger than that of their contemporaries in Europe. The 
imperial officers were not entirely free to recruit whom they wished. Many 
in the end were employed thanks to the crucial agency of lineage leaders 
and, later, a category of men called jamadars: men to whom the common 
soldier was far more loyal than to the states that had contracted him. 

Let me elaborate on this theme with respect to the most striking example 
of it that can be found, the recruitment history of the Avadhi- and Bhojpuri- 
(Hindi dialects) speaking part of Hindustan (now eastern Uttar Pradesh and 
western Bihar), a little to the east of the part of North India where Abdullah 
Khan performed his police atrocities. The phenomenon of how for many 
centuries the peasants of this region maintained their hold on the military 
profession in North India and turned soldiering into a major tool of their sur- 
vival represents a major, though not the only, chapter of the military history 
of India in the early modern period. Other features of that history, especially 
the apparatus set up by the Moguls to achieve a measure of control over North 
India's military labour market, are discussed by Kaushik Roy in this volume. 

The soldiering tradition of Hindustan was kept alive by its peasantries for 
almost four centuries, its village leaders tenaciously guarding their position 
as a recruitment area for the best-rewarded units of infantry in North India. 
As a tradition of peasant soldiering, it is traceable at least to the fifteenth- 

21 Habib, The Agrarian System of Mughal India, pp. 364-405. Habib here shows how, paradoxically, 
the agrarian collapse of the empire was to a significant extent caused by the extractive opportuni- 
ties offered to its centrally managed official elite, the mansabdari "apparatus", of the empire, the 
organization of which was, in itself, one of the great achievements of the Mogul leadership. 

22 For a definition of the term zamindar, see Habib, The Agrarian System of Mughal India, 
pp. 384-389. 

23 'Allami, The A'in-i Akbari, II, pp. 141-367. See also n. 7. 

2 5 6 


century Sharqi sultanate of Jaunpur. Many Rajput, i.e. warrior-clan, vassals 
of this realm served the Sharqi sultans with their peasant war bands. There 
is evidence of close alliances between the sultans of this period, Sharqis 
and others, and their Rajput warlords. Such alliances were not necessarily 
of an unequal nature. In terms of the taxonomy of our project, they partake 
of the quality of reciprocity. Just as Rajput women occupied an honourable 
place in the sultans' seraglios, Rajput alliances with Muslim women and 
their presence in Rajput royal households were considered regular. Women 
acted as the seal on and as proof of the intimacy and sacredness of these 
Hindu-Muslim alliances. After the sultans lost control of Jaunpur to the 
Lodi Afghans of Delhi in the 1480s, a clan of local Rajputs spearheaded an 
insurrection in support of this "reciprocal" and "intercommunal" tradition 
of alliance-formation. In the rising, 200,000 or even 300,000 Hindustani 
footsoldiers are reported to have participated: inflated figures no doubt, 
but, compared to the 15,000 horsemen the source mentions, clearly convey- 
ing the impression of enormous manpower originating with the regional 
landholders and their peasantries. 24 

Perhaps because the subsequent failure of the rising and the conquest of 
Hindustan by the Lodis reduced their chances of military employment in 
their own region, and possibly even before the Lodis put an end to the Jaunpur 
sultanate, 25 many of these levies moved west and south in search of naukari, 
the term then and later used for the honourable service of roaming warriors. 
These migrating professionals proved to be in great demand. They facilitated 
the renewal of the splendour of the royal Tomar Rajput court at Gwaliyar, as 
well as of the Muslim courts in Malwa and elsewhere in Central India. The 
generic term used for these soldiers, "Purbiya", not only indicates a non-ethnic, 
geographical origin from the eastward (Purab, i.e. Hindustan, the country 
east of Delhi); it also came to define a migratory soldiering identity of its own, 
an identity that implied the ability of those representing it to contract royal 
patronage in a labour market that extended far beyond their home region. 

After the collapse of its fortunes under the Tomars, the Purbiya tradition 
of naukari marketed, so to say, its next incarnation or soldiers' identity. 
It was introduced to the North Indian military labour market under a 
more distinct brand name than that of Purbiya, namely that of Ujjainiya. 
The leaders of the Ujjainiya clan were zamindars, or territorial lords, of 
Bhojpur in the southwest of Bihar. They now assumed the role of recruit- 

24 Saeed, The Sharqi Sultanate of Jaunpur, pp. 101-107; Niamatullah, Niamatullah's History of 
the Afghans, Part I, pp. 72-73, 136-140. 

25 See for this discussion Khan, Gunpowder and Firearms, pp. 218-226. 



ing captains in a grand way and with their war bands began to compete 
in the supra-local market for expert fighting units. By the Rajputs of the 
west of India, especially those in the region later called Rajputana, the 
Ujjainiyas would, along with most other clans in Hindustan, be considered 
genealogically "spurious", that is, not of pure lineage and therefore unfit as 
marriage partners. And, it is true, their strength lay elsewhere. During the 
first decades of the sixteenth century, they made themselves indispensable 
as specialized recruiting agents and commanders of Purbiyas. The role of the 
clan in marketing the services not only of their own men, but also of all those 
associated with the old Purbiya recruitment tradition, in negotiating for 
them their conditions of employment and in leading them in the field was 
a cardinal one and explains how the name Ujjainiya became the trademark 
and identity of the men they led. The great reputation these units acquired 
with the pretenders, warlords, and rulers of North India was enhanced by 
the close association of Ujjainiya brokerage, first with the pilgrimage centre 
of Baksar near Bhojpur and, secondly, with the Sur Afghans, then at the 
start of their comet-like emergence as a North Indian dynasty in the 1530s. 

A bath in a holy tank (the term here is used in the Indian sense of a 
water reservoir) of Baksar, known as Tiger Tank, ensured a young peasant 
of whatever caste both consecration as a fearless warrior - for that is what 
a tiger is - and, importantly, after a painless deconsecration during which 
one shed one's tiger nature after long years of service (naukari), a chance to 
return to one's village farm. The Afghan Farid Sur, the future Delhi sultan 
Sher Shah, depended a great deal on the Ujjainiya Rajputs' ability to muster 
men by the thousands - by no means all from their own clan, but from 
the inexhaustible manpower of Hindustan - and on his personal relation- 
ship with their leaders. From the point of view of the Hindustani peasant 
fighter, the decision to serve an Ujjainiya lord could turn out to be a first 
step towards assuming the Ujjainiya Rajput identity oneself and to being 
adopted as a member of the clan. Military recruitment often was, as noted 
earlier, a great engine of identity change. But this was not necessarily always 
so. In the military labour market all identities remained open, multiple, 
flexible, and temporary for as long it was in the interest of the functioning of 
the military profession as an aspect of the agrarian economy of Hindustan. 

At the battle of Surajgarh, in which Sher defeated the Bengal army, he 
put 3,000 hand-picked Afghans and 2,000 "Ujjainiyas" under their leader 
Gajpat Ujjainiya in his first line. After the battle was won, 

all the spoils of war, comprising elephants, horses, and other equip- 
ments, which had fallen into the hands of [Gajpat] were allowed to be 



retained by him. At the time of departure of [Gajpat] he [Sher] tied 
with his own hand the bejewelled sword to hang round [Gajpat's] 
waist, bound his arm with a jewelled armlet, gave a string of pearls 
round his neck, fixed a bejewelled ornament in his headdress, gave 
a horse, head-to-foot dress and a sword for prince Bairishal [Gajpat's 
brother], and gave Baksar as a fief to him. 26 

I have quoted this passage because it articulates and advertises the fame 
of both the Sur Afghans and the Ujjainiya leadership as agencies of great 
distributive intensity: naukari under a military agent such as Gajpat and, 
indirectly, under a ruler such as Sher meant a share in spoils that might be 
huge. The chronicles telling the story of the great early sixteenth-century 
Purbiya warlords of Malwa such as Silhadi likewise strongly and explicitly 
emphasize their wealth and largesse. 27 The organized loot of large-scale war 
was far more profitable than the haphazard local plundering of straggling 
travellers and small groups of soldiers. To be recruited in those years by an 
Ujjainiya broker indeed meant profit and privilege. 

The degree, therefore, to which one's dream as a naukar would come true 
was dependent on the diplomatic and entrepreneurial talent of the dealer in 
manpower or the recruiting warlord one joined and entrusted one's fate to. 
In addition, however, there was the imponderable factor of big politics. In the 
case of Sher Shah, his bitter struggle with the Mogul Humayun compelled 
the Ujjainiya agency to split into factions in order to keep open options of 
naukari in several directions, a strategy that, as we saw, was of the essence 
for peasant survival in North India. Sher Shah and Humayun cultivated 
the Ujjainiya clan connection as desperately as the local Rajput lineages 
needed the treasure and loot of major campaigns. 

In situations like this, positions easily shifted. For groups of peasant 
soldiers, there was a constant need to reconsider one's temporary identity as 
an Ujjainiya naukar, and to re-evaluate the status of the lord or ruler whose 
salt (namak) one ate. Loyalty to a throne could stand in the way of survival. 
This characteristic of contingent or ad hoc service applied much more 
strongly to the broker-state relationship (which can be described in terms 
of commodified labour and aggregate contracts) than to the relationship 
of the broker, or patron, with his soldier clients (which was of a reciprocal 
nature). This broker-mediated, two-level model, I suggest, is valid for the 
entire pre-British period. The commodifying agency that turned village 

26 Ambashthya, "The Accounts of the Ujjainiyas in Bihar", p. 438. 

27 Kolff, Naukar, Rajput & Sepoy, pp. 8sff. 



labour into state labour was provided by brokers with local roots, who were 
pivotal in ushering the peasant to a niche of service at the level of the state 
in a way that preserved his autonomy to a fair degree. 

Not all options, however, would be open at all times. After the Moguls 
firmly established themselves in North India in the 1570s, the patronage of 
the state became even more of a prize than earlier. The Ujjainiyas retained 
a hold on only a minor share of it. They hung on as managers of extensive 
agricultural tracts in western Bihar and continued as pugnacious leaders of 
undoubted regional notoriety; yet, by the time of Shahjahan's reign (1628- 
1658), they had lost their role as the principal recruiters and middlemen 
of the great reservoir of military labour of central Hindustan to others. 
At least partly, Mogul favour by then had shifted first to the clan of the 
Kachhwahas of Amber in Rajasthan, and then to the Bundela Rajputs who 
were zamindars in the region roughly between the home of the Gwaliyar 
Tomars and that of the Ujjainiyas. 

No Bundela leader was ever as spectacularly successful as the Mogul 
emperor Jahangir's favourite Raja Bir Singh Deo (d. 1627) in channelling the 
resources, financial as well as otherwise, of the empire towards himself, his 
clansmen, and the soldiers of Hindustan. A hugely talented recruiting agent 
and military manager, he succeeded in putting numerous units, mainly 
infantry, at the disposal of Jahangir without ever having to relinquish per- 
sonal command over them. He obtained an elevated mansabdari (service 
nobility) rank: in 1615, it was 4,700, at that time a very high figure. Only very 
few men in the empire ever succeeded to the same extent as Bir Singh Deo 
in monopolizing control of the military labour market of Hindustan and 
combining the usually distinct functions of employer (mansabdar) and 
recruiter of peasant infantry. Jahangir gave Bir Singh Deo, "than whom 
in the rajput caste there is no greater nobleman", as he wrote of him, the 
title of maharaja. Like his Tomar and Ujjainiya predecessors, the financial 
means Bir Singh Deo was able to invest in and extract from the Mogul state 
were impressive. In 1624, he first contributed a sum of between 200,000 and 
300,000 rupees to the cost of the imperial campaign in eastern Hindustan 
against the rebellious prince Khurram, the future emperor Shahjahan, and 
in the end plundered his camp seizing as booty many gold coins, jewels, 
3,000 horses, and 40 elephants. Or perhaps it is better to say that he pre- 
vented Khurram's enemies from getting hold of these valuables, because, as 
a Dutch chronicler remarked, Bir Singh Deo was a great friend of the prince. 
Naturally, as a manpower broker he had to have friends in both camps in 
order to remain in place as a partner in the empire's extortionate enterprise. 



Bir Singh Deo's spending practices, like those of his predecessors, were 
impressive. In Agra he had a palace on the river, next to the mansion of the 
famous Man Singh Kachhwaha. His building activities in Bundelkhand, his 
home region, advertised his financial might and his standing as a pious and 
trustworthy leader: the palace-fort of Datiya, erected at a cost of 3.5 million 
rupees, was only one of them; the famous tanks of Bir Sagar and Barwa 
Sagar and the Chaturbhuj Vishnu temple at Orchha, part of which still 
stands, were others. An even greater achievement of his was the Keshav Dev 
temple, devoted to Krishna, at Mathura, which according to Jean-Baptiste 
Tavernier, the French traveller, was one of the most sumptuous buildings in 
all India and was visited by large numbers of pilgrims. Bir Singh Deo himself 
went to Mathura as a pilgrim to weigh himself against an amount of gold 
which, together with an additional 81 man of gold, probably representing 
the eighty-one districts (parganas) that constituted his realm (or fief, if you 
like), was then distributed as charity. It was his way to wash off the physical 
and political impurities of his career - he was the murderer of Abu'l Fazl, 
Akbar's distinguished minister - and to reconnect with the principles of 
dharmic order, as well as to advertise, far beyond his native Bundelkhand, 
his dominant position in the military labour market of Hindustan. 28 But 
the exercise also shows the enormous distributive energy generated by 
military entrepreneurship. Through him and men like him, large sums of 
money found their way back into the village economy, though probably 
not always into the hands of the same villagers who had paid these sums 
as taxes in the first place. 

In this manner, Bir Singh Deo set in motion the tradition of imperial 
naukari, or service, of Purbiya/Hindustani peasant soldiers under jobber- 
commanders of the Bundela clan. Apart from its economic importance 
in terms of the flow of agrarian revenue back to the countryside, the phe- 
nomenon of massive military service, or naukari, had a profound cultural 
impact on peasant society. This is illustrated by the veneration in which the 
soldiers - again, by no means all of them of Bundela lineages themselves - 
who followed Bir Singh Deo and his successors, came to hold Hardaul, one 
of the great Bundela's own sons. After his murder by one of his brothers, 
Hardaul became the object of devotion in a soldiers' cult that took root in 
the core region of Purbiya recruitment, i.e., in all the districts that supplied 
young men (jawans) to the jobber-commanders, Bundela and otherwise, 
who took over Bir Singh Deo's business after his death. The story is too long 

28 Kolff and van Santen, De Geschriften van Francisco Pelsaert over Mughal Indie, pp. 187, 191-192, 
225, 249; Kolff, Naukar, Rajput & Sepoy, pp. 128-130. 



to tell here. But the cult was yet another means through which peasant 
boys came to partake of a specific and cherished soldiers' identity. 29 The 
remoulding of old social and ritual distinctions, the adoption of second or 
parallel identities of a sect or clan nature, whether temporary or permanent, 
was a natural corollary of what I termed naukari and an inextricable part 
of the workings of the military labour machine of North India. 

After the decline of the Ujjainiya clan and Bir Singh Deo Bundela's 
death, minor lineage heads of both clans would continue to be active in 
recruitment, brokerage, and state service. During the heyday of the empire, 
however, the Mogul system compelled a considerable number of clans and 
extended families of zamindars to give up the large-scale employment of 
war bands that they had undertaken on their own account. Though some 
continued to seek imperial contracts while at the same time resisting the 
empire's interference in their home lands, others fell back on the manage- 
ment of their villages, while attempting to extricate some external income 
from police duties and local political patronage. 

With this, the military labour market for infantry as a Longue duree 
phenomenon once more entered a new phase, this time partly emancipated 
from the old monopoly of localized Rajput clan brokerage and assuming 
a more regional identity. It came of age, as it were, in the jobbing and 
ritual practices of the brahmanical pilgrimage centre of Baksar, already 
mentioned, right at the centre of the old Purbiya and Ujjainiya recruiting 
grounds in the Bhojpur district of West Bihar. As early as 1580 we hear of 
a Brahman Mogul officer who attempted to draft soldiers at that place or, 
rather, at the holy tank of that name; he was killed on the bank of the Ganga 
by the Ujjainiya interest, then still too strong to brook interference. Half a 
century later, however, Mogul intrusion became the rule rather than the 
exception. Soon, large numbers of soldiers derived their identity from a real 
or supposed connection with Baksar rather than from a Rajput clan's agency. 
Significantly, they became known as Baksariyas, a name that, until the end 
of the eighteenth century, would almost be synonymous with Hindustani 
musketeers or matchlockmen, though one also meets some Baksariya 
cavalry. A Mogul source of 1690 still mentions Baksariyas and Bundelas as 
the categories that sum up the presence of regular matchlockmen in the 
imperial army. But soon one finds only the first identity. By the second 
decade of the eighteenth century, the British East India Company had some 
of these "sepoys" in its pay. In 1757, "Baksariya" musketeers served under 

29 Kolff, Naukar, Rajput & Sepoy, pp. i45ff. 



Clive, who, in the next year, raised the third Bengal sepoy battalion in the 
Bhojpur area. 30 

The Baksariyas served under jamadars, officers without an ethnically 
defined identity, to whom they owed their recruitment. In the eighteenth 
century, these officers, increasingly without a decisive agrarian base them- 
selves, came fully into their own as a category of recruiters-cum-officers. 
They represented the crucial manpower-nexus of the military labour 
market. In the absence of the old clan brokers and probably connected 
with the adoption of sharpshooting matchlocks by peasant infantry units, 
men rose from the ranks and set themselves up as autonomous brokers. 
As jamadars they performed the task - well-known in the labour history 
of India - of jobbers, in this case jobber-cum-commanders. Without their 
recruitment expertise and negotiating skills, the Purbiya tradition of 
soldiering could not have maintained its remarkable near-monopoly of 
the market for infantrymen in North India. The ordinary sepoy was only 
"a musket in a mass of firepower", dependent, as he had always been, on 
some sort of labour agency. 

On the jamadars' loyalty often depended the political fortunes of the 
Moguls, the Mogul empire's successor states, and the British Company. The 
fate of Siraj ud-Daula, the ruler of Bengal and Clive's adversary at Plassey 
in 1757, hinged crucially on his principal sepoy jamadars. 31 However, far- 
reaching as the revolutions in the brokering profession were for some of 
the elite groups of Hindustan, in the experience of the peasantries service 
conditions must have remained largely the same. Their near-monopoly of 
the labour market never depended on the particular brand or label under 
which their clan leaders or jamadars negotiated for them and offered their 
services to mansabdars, provincial rulers, or the British. The Baksariyas, 
moreover, just as the Ujjainiya and Bundela soldiers before them, and as 
their successor incarnation, that of the Company's sepoys, would do, always 
looked forward to returning to the family farms of Hindustan they had left 
as boys of perhaps only seventeen years of age. They served as jawans, that 
is young men, which even today is the name affectionately given in India 
to the common soldier. At the age of forty, when according to tradition one 
ceased to be a jawan, it was high time to return home to one's village. 32 What 

30 Wickremesekera, "Best Black Troops in the World", p. 100. 

31 Yang, The Limited Raj, pp. 191-194; Kolff, Naukar, Rajput & Sepoy, pp. 171, 174, 177, 179. 

32 The dedication on war monuments in modern India "Jay kisdnjay jawan" ("Hurrah for the 
peasant, hurrah for the soldier") is a strong reminder of the continuing association in public 
opinion of the two occupations. 



did not change either, at least for a while, was that, though restricted in 
their freedom by British officers and new rules of discipline and drill, they 
endeavoured where possible to keep their options open and renegotiate 
their contracts, especially with respect to pay and, as we shall see, caste 

Another centuries-old feature of the Hindustani labour market may, 
under Company rule, even have become more prominent. I mean the self- 
recruiting character of the peasant armies discussed earlier. During the 
eighteenth century, recruiting parties are known to have been sent to vil- 
lages in Company territory. Often, however, men came to military stations 
on their own initiative. The regiments actively encouraged their sepoys to 
bring friends and relatives as potential recruits. In 1773 it was reported that 
young village men "presented themselves daily on the parade ground for 
employment", although, when an urgent need arose, trustworthy Indian 
officersjamac/ars and havildars, were sent out on behalf of the Company 
regiment to bring in new recruits. Even until the so-called Mutiny of 1857, 
methods of self-recruitment like these remained the common system. 33 
From within the regiments, Indian agency and patronage monopolized and 
fulfilled the military employment requirements of the conquering colonial 
state. Rather than the Company's army representing a world separate from 
village society, it served, in a way, as the military wing of the agrarian 
economy of Hindustan, a guarantee of a steady flow of cash to numberless 
village managers. 

Members of many different castes, including a large number of low and 
"spurious" castes, had traditionally maintained a strong foothold on military 
employment. 34 As the Company conquered North India and reduced the 
number of territorial chiefs and rulers, however, it acquired a unique posi- 
tion in the labour market. To a dramatic degree, the employers' demand for 
military labour now fell far short of the available supply. Employment op- 
portunities decreased and competition for fully paid military jobs became 
fierce. Naturally, the landholding, mainly high-caste elites of the traditional 
recruiting grounds of Hindustan, who were allowed to recruit whom they 
pleased by the army authorities, were in a position to be as selective when 
filling vacancies as they chose. So, they turned their regiments into preserves 
of their own castes. Any soldier would now make the most of his family and 

33 Barat, The Bengal Native Infantry, p. 49; Alavi, The Sepoys and the Company, pp. 47-48. 
Wickremesekera speaks of "the jamadari system of recruitment" having become widespread 
by the early eighteenth century: "Best Black Troops in the World", p. 40. 

34 For examples, see Kolff, Naukar, Rajput & Sepoy, pp. liyff. 



village ties and present his younger brothers, nephews, or fellow villagers 
to his commanding officer as recruits. The process was already underway 
in, for instance, the maharaja of Benares' army before it reached that of 
the Company. So the dominant castes of Hindustan, Bhumihar brahmans 
and several clans of Rajputs, made themselves into the dominant castes of 
the Company's sepoy army, not only culturally, but also numerically. As a 
result, the Company's regiments, self-perpetuating institutions as never 
before, became inward-looking preserves of Hindustani elite power. The 
Company could not have stopped the process. In fact, as it strengthened the 
social cohesion of the regiments, officers acquiesced to and encouraged it; 
colonial blindness even made them suggest it was their own predilection 
for the cleaner castes that had set the process going. 35 

So, the arrival of the East India Company on North India's labour market 
did after all mean a break with tradition. The Company was in a position to 
establish a monopoly as an employer of soldiers, at least at the state level. 
This largely stopped the ongoing hassle and fuss of the soldiers' brokers 
over their clients' terms of service. There was little to negotiate now. Village 
elites may have held on to their monopoly of recruitment in large parts 
of Hindustan; the fact of the exclusion of other state employers by the 
monopolist Company severely reduced the sepoys' power of negotiation 
when it came to formalizing the terms of service. 

Genealogically speaking, it is true that the Company's sepoy army was 
a straight descendant and a reincarnation of the Purbiya-Tomar-Ujjainiya- 
Bundela-Baksariya tradition of Hindustani peasant soldiering. It is also true 
that sepoys continued to send huge amounts of pay to their home villages. 
By its grants of land to pensioned-off soldiers - a kind of latter-day watan 
system - the invalid establishment of the Company's Bengal Army even 
strengthened its link and that of its sepoys with the traditional recruiting 
grounds of Hindustan. But with only one employer left, the role for broker- 
age, for labour agents and jobber-commanders (jamadars) dwindled to 
almost nil. Desertion and defection to another warlord or state were no 
longer options. In the newly juridified atmosphere of the colonial state, 
aggressive attempts at renegotiating one's terms of service were deemed 
to be mutinies. 

Inward-looking, I said. Those sepoys who were lucky enough to retain 
employment with the monopolist Company compensated their loss of 
negotiating power by inventing a cult of themselves as pure brahmans 

35 In a similar process, the untouchables were gradually excluded from the ranks of the Madras 
Army: Wickremesekera, "Best Black Troops in the World", p. 103. 



and respectable Rajputs. The Company, as we saw, obliged. Lower-caste 
sepoys, such as the Pasis, who had contributed much to the centuries-old 
Purbiya tradition of mobile labour and had helped fight Clive's battles, "were 
excluded from the line, in order to more fully conciliate the higher classes". 36 

Even then, the Bhumihars - a new identity of "military brahmans" - and 
Rajputs who succeeded in holding on to employment, could never com- 
pletely reconcile themselves to a contract that deprived them of all options 
of service other than those that suited the British. Their last bid to regain 
their old freedom of negotiation according to the ancient code of honourable 
free agency or naukari would come to naught in the rising of 1857. 

After that, the options on the market for mobile labour in Hindustan 
would be even more meagre than before. In a radical shift of policy, the 
British turned westwards, especially to the Punjab, for its recruits. The old 
system - which I characterized as a two-tiered one, composed, at the level of 
the village economy, of a relatively free and reciprocal relationship between 
surplus agrarian labour and locally rooted brokers and, at the level of the 
broker-state relationship, of freely contracted service deals of aggregated, 
commodified labour - collapsed for good. For most men in the old recruiting 
villages of Hindustan, there was no alternative, then, but to stick to their 
share of the family fields and, if it seemed advantageous, force out of the 
agrarian labour market the lower-status men they had deprived of profitable 
army service two or three generations earlier. No compensation in the form 
of new employment opportunities was offered except in the tea gardens of 
Assam, as a strongman in one of the armed gangs of the odd big landholder 
in Bengal, or as an indentured labourer in one of the overseas parts of the 
empire. For these jobs, brokerage was in the hands of men appointed by the 
colonial authorities in Calcutta, men with no roots or interest in agrarian 
Hindustan, which now entered a long phase of often abject poverty. 

36 Chattopadhyaya, The Sepoy Mutiny, 7857, p. 72; Singh, Indian Army under the East India 
Company, p. 157; Kolff, Naukar, Rajput & Sepoy, pp. 28, ii7ff. The quote - taken from the remi- 
niscences of a British officer published in 1830 - is found in Peers, '"The Habitual Nobility of 
Being'", 550. See also Gordon, "Symbolic and Structural Constraints", p. 173. 

"True to their salt" 

Mechanisms for recruiting and managing military labour 
in the army of the East India Company during the Carnatic 
Wars in India 

Robert Johnson 

South Asian personnel were critically important to the British military 
effort in the Carnatic Wars (1746-1748, 1749-1754, 1757-1763). Since European 
personnel were relatively few in number, they were compelled to augment 
their strength with a trained cadre of indigenous men. 1 As in other theatres 
of war in the period 1746-1763, the recruitment of military labour into armies 
from beyond the parent state was common. In North America, Europe, and 
South Asia, native or mercenary forces were employed with an emphasis on 
the steady improvement of their efficiency and cost-effectiveness although 
quality was linked to the tasks they were to perform. 

Drawing on the background to the Carnatic Wars, this chapter analyses 
the types, recruitment patterns, and uses of military labour, offering a 
comparison between those drawn from Europe and the subcontinent, 
including the assessments made by contemporaries. In contrast to recent 
historiographical trends that seek to emphasize ideological judgements 
about the use of South Asian labour, archival records suggest the Brit- 
ish were eminently pragmatic in their decisions about manpower. They 
interpreted conditions in India through their own experiences, looking for 
particular "types", but they also borrowed from local practices, particularly 
when the sheer demand for trained manpower in the 1750s outweighed 
any ideological considerations. Nevertheless, the British were aware of the 
need to acknowledge cultural sensitivities, and the Company army was not 
entirely converted to a "European" model. 

In order to assist in making wider comparative judgements about military 
labour in this period, it is possible to identify here certain taxonomies and 
evolutionary trends in common with other areas of global labour history 
research. The army of the East India Company in the period 1746-1763, 
regardless of its quality, represents a shift from a force consisting of Euro- 

1 South Asian labour was not confined to filling the ranks of the Europeans' armies, as a 
great number of local civilians and camp followers were vital to the functioning of the logistical 
chain. However, this aspect of employment remains outside the scope of this chapter. 



pean "conscript professionals" with a handful of "ethnic conscripts" and 
"ethnic mercenaries", led by an officer corps that was in part "mercenary 
professional". By the end of the Third Carnatic War, the troops of the East 
India Company resembled "ethnic professionals", augmented by auxiliaries 
who might still be categorized as "ethnic mercenaries", thus constitut- 
ing a "mixed force" of labour types. The European contingent, raised by 
a combination of voluntarism and "crimping" (impressment), remained 
either "professional mercenaries" or "professional conscripts". This chapter 
examines these changes and continuities, illustrating an army on the cusp 
of a significant transformation in its imperial labour systems. 

Staying true to their salt: The historiographical context 

Over the past thirty years, a great deal of attention has been paid to inter- 
pretations of the British colonial encounter in South Asia in the light of 
post-colonial studies. z There has been a comprehensive search for the ideo- 
logical assumptions and constructions of the colonizers and the subsequent 
reactions of the colonized. The approach itself has been scrutinized and 
critiqued, with detractors arguing that the colonized were not simply pas- 
sive victims of colonizing "discourses" and power relationships, but active 
agents in the dynamic processes at work. Subsequently some scholars have 
tried to show that the British Empire and its colonial subjects were engaged 
in "dialogues" of power, that the British system was flexible and porous, and 
that the debate had not taken sufficient notice of gender in its analysis of 
class and race. 3 However, there seemed to be a universal acceptance of the 
idea that "empire" was inherently violent, stripping peoples of power and 
dignity, and at times altering their behaviour so profoundly that, even after 
independence, colonial taxonomies persisted. With a deeply moralizing 
agenda in keeping with late twentieth-century ideas of social justice and 
equality, the British period in India was condemned as fundamentally 
unjust, often cruel, and irredeemably corrupt. These debates are particularly 
important in any consideration of military labour in South Asia in the 
eighteenth century. 

However, far from simply being a system of violence, the East India Com- 
pany used its army, in keeping with mid-eighteenth-century ideas about 

2 Said, Orientalism; Guha and Spivak, Selected Subaltern Studies; Spivak, "Can the Subaltern 

3 Washbrook, 'Orients and Occidents'. 



the state and public order, to establish pacified regions more conducive to 
commerce. They were engaged in partnerships and alliances. The recruit- 
ment of an effective, trained, and disciplined army was a crucial element 
of this process, and was seen as fundamental to the exploitation of the 
military labour market. 

It is important to emphasize, from the outset, this pragmatic character of 
governance, recruitment, military organization, and pacification. Despite 
numerous attempts to identify ideological reasons for the expansion of 
Company rule in India, the conduct of its officers and the raising or use 
of armies, the British displayed a practical approach to the problems they 
confronted. Their points of reference were, unsurprisingly, entirely Euro- 
pean, but they applied no rigid systems and responded in a way that took 
account of local conditions to establish their own local supremacy, the free 
flow of trade, minimal costs, and maximum profit. Moreover, the army was 
crucial to the way that the East India Company developed: faced with a 
great threat from French forces and local instability, the Company employed 
a greater proportion of trained Indian personnel and engaged in a series 
of significant military operations. While the British adopted European 
standards in selection, training, and tactics, they were also conscious of the 
limitations of British personnel in terms of health, quality, and availability. 

It is generally accepted that the British learned from the French model in 
the Carnatic Wars of the 1740s, namely, that Indian manpower, trained in 
European modes of warfare, was crucial to winning campaigns in the sub- 
continent. Philip Mason suggested that, once the British learned the value 
of the Indian sepoy, they possessed the means to conquer the subcontinent. 4 
However, Channa Wickremesekera disagreed, pointing to the widespread 
contempt for Indian soldiers and their secondary roles in the campaigns. 5 
He argued that the Europeans felt the Indians were incapable of effective 
leadership or initiative. Indians were used primarily as factory guards or 
garrison troops. Where units were raised, they were Europeanized, that is 
trained, drilled, and even clothed on European lines, under British officers. 
He argued that Indian troops were rarely used against French troops, and 
tended to be deployed only to guard the baggage and lines of communica- 
tion. If they performed well, the British attributed this to their own officers 
or the inspiration of the British troops who accompanied them. In the key 
engagements of the Seven Years War (1756-1763, contemporaneous with 

4 Mason, A Matter of Honour, pp. 29-38. 

5 Wickremesekera, European Success and Indian Failure in the SEC. See also Wickremesekera, 
"Best Black Troops in the World". 



the Third Carnatic War), European troops invariably led in the assault. The 
only significant changes, he argued, were in the numbers actually employed 
(which was a consequence of extended commitments) and an equalization 
in weaponry between British and Indian troops (since, after 1760, both were 
armed with flintlocks). 

It is easy to assume that racial stereotypes, which were to become so 
prominent in the nineteenth century, determined ideas in this period. In 
fact, calculations about the need for, and costs of, military labour were more 
important. The East India Company was eager to find those who would work 
with it and sought, in peacetime, simply to keep labour costs to a minimum. 
Moreover, manpower demands in wartime could overcome peacetime 
prejudices very rapidly. Furthermore, while it is easy to find episodes in 
which Indians were not trusted to make independent judgements without 
the direction of European officers, this would also apply in exactly the same 
way to European infantrymen. Men with rural backgrounds, lacking educa- 
tion, characterized both European and Indian foot soldiers. Discipline was 
harsh for both, but was proven, time after time, to be necessary to drill men 
to overcome their instinctive desire to save themselves in close-quarters 
battle. The forging of a collective solidarity and sense of purpose, often 
through the moniker of the regiment or the willingness to follow a particular 
leader, applied equally to British and Indian troops. The environment and 
human health also had a part to play. Gerald Bryant argued that the need 
to garrison India and to provide internal security, in an environment that 
Europeans found debilitating and even lethal, one for which Indian troops 
were better suited, meant that Indians were preferred. 6 Moreover, some 
European officers were critical of the poor performance of low-quality 
European soldiers compared with the sepoys. 

In the 1740s, the British had been content to use casually employed local 
armed men for the protection of their caravans, goods, and quarters. 7 From 
the outset, control of territory brought with it the obligation of maintaining 
the security of the population, although the Company's priority was to avoid 
this sort of commitment in favour of commercial activity. Initially, the only 
reliable military forces were European troops shipped from the British Isles. 
The first were the King's troops, four companies of which landed in Bombay 
in 1662 and who were invited to take up their arms in 1668 as "mercenary- 
professionals" of the East India Company. In 1664, two companies of "Ra- 
jputs" had been enlisted, but they got neither British officers nor training. 

6 Bryant, The East India Company and Its Army. 

7 Mason, A Matter of Honour, p. 30. 



They used their own weapons and possessed no uniforms, and their pay 
was often in arrears. They were accordingly described by the governor of 
Bombay as "more like bandits in the woods than military men". In response, 
he organized a militia of all freemen and landholders. The officers were 
British but the ranks were filled with Indians, most of whom had converted 
to Christianity. Nevertheless, in 1706, six companies of "Gentoos" (Hindus) 
were disbanded because they were so unreliable. By the 1740s, garrisons 
were held by Europeans and elderly or infirm "mestees" (men of mixed 
Portuguese and Indian descent, sometimes described as "Portuguese"), 
"Topasses" and "Peons" (Christian Indians, the latter being the term used 
in Madras), and "seapoys" (men armed with their own weapons, fit only for 
guard duty). 8 In February 1747, Madras was protected by 3,000 peons but 
only 900 had muskets and these were all matchlocks. The verdict that one 
must draw is that the Indian troops in the Company's employment before 
1750 were cheap and were attracted by financial reward but were of a very 
low quality indeed - all of which was the result of peacetime parsimony. 

The British Indian forces serving the Company were transformed by 
encounters with the French. The nawab of the Carnatic had been defeated 
by a French force made up of Europeans and sepoys under Captain Paradis, 
while the fleet under Bertrand de la Bourdonnais had taken Madras in 
1746. By contrast, the British, despite having a strong fleet, failed to capture 
Pondicherry simply because they lacked the resources and manpower for 
a land campaign. Although Madras was returned on the conclusion of 
peace two years later, the seriousness of the threat and the French alliances 
with local rulers had revealed the precarious position of the East India 
Company in the subcontinent. The "unofficial war" between British and 
French forces in India in fact continued, with each unable to maintain a 
fleet off the east coast of India for long, and with both sides plagued by 
the steady loss of European troops, who died of disease. The French and 
particularly the British had too few European troops to take and hold all 
the hill fortifications that lay between their territories or those of their 
allies. Garrisoning the settlements that were captured used up precious 
manpower. The solution was therefore entirely pragmatic: recruit more 
Indian personnel who could cope better with the climate, survive local 
diseases, and augment the dwindling numbers of trained Europeans. 

The British position was weakened further when Marquis Joseph Francois 
Dupleix, the governor-general of the French possessions in India, allied 
himself with the new nizam of the Deccan, and earned the Mogul title 

8 Lenman, Britain's Colonial Wars, p. 88. 



of "Commander of the Seven Thousand" from the Emperor. At Arcot, the 
French had gained another ally, Chanda Sahib, the new nawab of the Car- 
natic. This put several thousand Indian troops at the disposal of France. The 
British had backed Chanda Sahib's rival, Mohammed Ali, at Trichinopoly 
and provided a garrison of 600 men, but the city was besieged in 1751. At 
Fort St George in Madras and Fort St David, there were barely 350 British 
personnel available - too few for a relief force. Nevertheless, Robert Clive, 
who had been appointed originally as commissary of supply, was permitted 
to march out with 200 European and 300 Indian troops, and three small 
field guns, to make an audacious attack on Chanda Sahib's capital at Arcot. 
After the surprise capture of the town, Clive put the settlement, with its 
mile-long perimeter, into a state of defence. Clive possessed only 120 British 
and 200 Indians fit for duty at the commencement of the siege. After a 
bombardment, a series of sorties, and a major attack on a breach in the 
walls, this garrison had been reduced to 80 British soldiers and 120 sepoys. 
Nevertheless, reinforced, and then relieved at Arcot, by additional indig- 
enous troops, Clive pursued the French and Indian armies and inflicted a 
major defeat on them at Ami. 

Clive's successes helped turn the tide of the war: Chanda Sahib's forces 
were drawn off from Trichinopoly; Mysore and a portion of Marathas joined 
Mohammed Ali. Dupleix tried to restore the situation by advancing towards 
Madras with 400 Frenchmen and 2,000 sepoys. This force ambushed Clive 
at Kaveripak (1752), when the British had force-marched to intercept him. 
Clive defeated the ambush with his own outnumbered brigade. Indian men 
employed by the Company went on to fight against the French and their 
allies, describing themselves as the "veterans of Arcot" which, given there 
had only been 120 survivors and the new force numbered 600, might refer 
to French-trained sepoys who had changed sides. 9 There are other possible 
explanations. They may have been sick soldiers who had recovered, or new 
recruits who had joined the core of the old formation, although changing 
sides was not so unusual in the fluid arrangements of the labour market 
of southern India. 

What was clear, from the emergence of the French as a more significant 
rival to the East India Company in the subcontinent after 1750, was that 
the British were deficient in trained manpower. Indian personnel were 
therefore trained by Clive and others on the French model and, by the end 
of the fighting in 1753, it was clear that organization, improved discipline, 
and the toughening experience of campaigning had improved the quality 

9 Mason, A Matter of Honour, p. 30. 



of the British Indian forces. The fact was that European personnel in India 
were not available in sufficient numbers. Part of the problem was the supply: 
there was considerable competition for recruits with the regular army 
back in Britain. The outbreak of the Seven Years War in Europe therefore 
necessitated that regular regiments were sent out to India. This immediately 
raised questions about whether the Company or the Army should exercise 
command and jurisdiction, but with 63 per cent of the Company's forces 
being made up of regular units, the issue of manpower and who was to 
provide it became a critical and much debated issue. 10 In Britain, potential 
recruits sought to avoid all of the tropical destinations as death traps, and 
that included India. 11 The regular army, which needed to fill its own ranks, 
pressured its parliamentary allies to limit Company recruitment quotas. 
These pressures meant that the Company was compelled to release more 
funds to raise local personnel. 

The recruitment of the Company Army 

In 1757, Robert Clive had recruited the first Bengal native regiment, the Lai 
Paltan, as a selected 515 men serving under British officers, thus expand- 
ing the Company Army from its companies in Madras and its garrison at 
Bombay. According to a return of the Bengal troops dated 10 April 1757, 
Clive commanded some 1,914 "Seapoys", of which 1,400 were, in fact, from 
Madras. In addition, the return listed 257 topasses, 157 of whom were drawn 
from Bombay and the rest from Madras, but all of these were confined to 
garrison and guard duty. 

The new Bengal sepoys were picked using the standard British criteria 
of the day. Many British soldiers were enlisted in rural Scotland as well as 
the English countryside because of a preference for rural workers. Tall and 
physically robust men were selected because of the endurance required 
in military service. Agricultural labourers were considered tougher, more 
used to the outdoors, able to move longer distances, and more biddable than 
urban folk. The Indian recruits had to stand 5*7" tall and meet the same 

10 Gilbert, "Recruitment and Reform in the East India Company Army", p. 91. 

11 In analysing the numbers sick in Clive 's return of 1757, we find that, for the British, 16 officers 
of 70 were sick, representing 23 per cent of their strength. There were 176 Other Ranks (ORs) 
of 1,219 (including 25 of 257 Topasses), representing 14 per cent. For the sepoys, 53 of 1,914 were 
sick, representing just 3 per cent of their strength. Average sick rates in 1790s for the Company 
Army as a whole were 17 per cent and the death rate was 5 per cent: WO 17 1742 and 1743. National 
Archives, Kew. 



physical standards as would any British enlisted man. There was little that 
was ideological about this, and the approach was universal. 

There were, however, some other considerations. In 1750, Robert Orme 
drew up a categorization of "martial races" based on the dietary habits and 
climatic zones of the subcontinent. 12 While the issue of "martial races" has 
become mired in ideological debates on race that belong to the nineteenth 
century, in this period the criteria and associations were far more pragmat- 
ic. 13 In general terms, Orme believed that wheat-growing areas produced 
physically better and therefore more "martial" types than the areas where 
rice was grown and where people were shorter. Accordingly, the Company 
confined its recruitment to villages in wheat zones and therefore largely 
within its own territories. 14 In 1757, immediately after Plassey, the Company 
recruited in the Bengal Presidency because it was dissatisfied with the 
standards of recruits in the nawab of Bengal's forces, but it found that few 
men met the required height standard. 15 The rural men were thought to 
be "undersized". As a result, by the 1770s, recruitment had been extended 
into northern India, where, again, wheat-growing predominated. There, the 
British most often selected what they considered "higher-caste Brahmans". 
This was not just because of their physique however, but of self-perceptions 
of "warrior traditions" and their ability to influence the recruitment of other 
"sturdy" peasants. This self-perception as an ethnic professional social group 
is evident in other locations outside South Asia in this period. 

Another criterion for the recruitment of British troops in Scotland, ac- 
cording to John Prebble, had been the need to find employment for unskilled 
men who might otherwise foment disorder. 16 The significant demographic 
shift in Britain in the mid to late eighteenth century meant rural over- 
population could be managed in part by a natural flow to urban areas 
and in part by employment in the armed forces. Having just confronted 
the serious rebellion of the '45, it was understandable that British authori- 
ties should be focused on questions of civil order and the management of 
populations. In the Terai areas of Bengal, Robert Brooke was charged with 
establishing a regiment to absorb selected hill-raiders and to employ them 
in the pacification of their own homelands. Warren Hastings expressed the 
view that preserving the caste system in India would prevent the "danger 

12 Orme, Historical Fragments of the Mughal Empire. 

13 The debate and its origins are fully unravelled in Roy, Brown Warriors of the Raj. 

14 See, for example, Maj. Stainford to K. Kyd, 9 March and 17 March 1779, P/18/47, India Office 
Records [henceforth, IOR]. 

15 Khan, SeirMutaquerin. 

16 Prebble, Mutiny; Galloway, White People, Indians and Highlanders. 



that they will soon be united and embodied as an armed nation after the 
example of the Sikhs". 17 He was concerned that they might "become too 
formidable for their rulers". The Company therefore continued to co-opt 
potential and even actual enemies throughout the next seventy years and, 
with the exception of the Bengal regiments, looked particularly for men 
from marginalized or peripheral rural communities who would have little 
sympathy for the majority of the population. 

The effect of British concerns about rebellion and the raising of Indian 
regiments was to exaggerate the special status of caste privileges in Indian 
units, preserving their preference not to travel across the Kala Pani (the 
black sea), to eat only certain foods, and to respect religious rituals. These 
enhanced the self-esteem of the troops, but caused resentment among 
civilians of similar caste. These moves were designed to enhance recruit- 
ment, separate the sepoy from any attachment to the people, and ensure 
continued loyalty to the Company above the local population. It was for 
these reasons also that the Company's military men opposed the ingress of 
Christian missionaries who might, reflected the subsequent commander-in- 
chief, Charles Cornwallis, "endanger a government which owes its principal 
support to a native army composed of men of high caste whose fidelity 
and affections we have hitherto secured by an unremitted attention not 
to offend their religious scruples and superstitions". 18 

However, the practice of recruitment, following British methods, was 
not entirely uniform. In Britain, recruiting sergeants would seek disaf- 
fected workers, enquiring as to those who felt their masters were unjust, 
their wages too low, or their lives too limited by their womenfolk. Pay and 
employment, especially when other options were limited, were a strong 
incentive to enlist. Family size seems to have made a difference for some, 
as opportunities to inherit land or business were curtailed. A tradition of 
some sort of public service within the family, often military, could make the 
appeal stronger. Young men, regardless of their nationality, often express a 
desire to be tested as a rite of manhood, or to experience adventure in such 
a way as to elevate their esteem with peers, family, or clan. Some men were 
trying to escape issues at home (the "push" factors) including getting women 
pregnant, drudgery, and petty crimes, but others felt the army had its own 
attractions (the "pull" factors), including the ostentation of uniform, or the 

17 Warren Hastings, Collections of Essays, Add. 29234, Hastings Papers. 

18 Cornwallis to the Bishop of Salisbury, 1788, Cornwallis Papers, PRO 30/11/187, National 
Archives, Kew. 



appearance of young men returning on furlough who were better fed, taller, 
and fitter and who often encouraged others to enlist. 19 

In Britain, there were also some sharp practices. Wealthy men hoping to 
advance themselves by the raising of a regiment for the government, such 
as the Duke of Athole in 1778, were not above using the middlemen of local 
businesses and hired agents as "human blood hounds" to pursue men and 
conscript them. 20 Officially, recruiting sergeants were permitted to raise 
groups of men "by beat of drum", literally beating a tattoo to get the atten- 
tion of young men and then regaling them with stories of immediate cash, 
generous wages, adventure, and personal glory. At country fairs and taverns 
alcohol and stirring military music sometimes encouraged men further. 
These tricks tended to attract a low quality of recruit, as recruiting sergeants 
themselves recognized. Many people had a low regard for the army, and 
artisan families felt that enlistment was the act of the desperate. However, 
countless young men still regarded the army as a manly profession, with 
glamorous uniforms likely to seduce women. 

In its search for European personnel, the Company was forced to hire 
"crimps", agents who were paid on the basis of the number of recruits they 
ensnared.* 1 Kidnapping was common, the victims being locked up until they 
could be placed on board a ship and sent out to India. The only volunteers 
coming forward were those attempting to escape imprisonment or the 
gallows. There were no officers to escort them or depots in Britain and 
consequently there was no attempt to instil any discipline or training. 
They were largely debtors, drunks, and criminals, and they were accused of 
carrying "insolence, mutiny, profligacy, debauchery and disease into their 
Armies in India". 22 To make matters worse, the Company did not have the 
powers of martial law over their recruits while they were still in Britain. 
Part of the reason for the draconian recruitment process was to prevent 
men simply escaping back to civilian life. 

When the Seven Years War began, the numbers of men recruited for the 
Company actually fell as the services at home took a larger share of the pool. 
In 1754-1755, the Company had obtained 1,001 men, but a year later only 
488 were procured. In 1759-1760, only 202 men were found, and in 1761-1762 

19 Laver, British Military Uniforms; Samuel Hutton, "The Life of an Old Soldier", cited in Palmer, 
The Rambling Soldier, pp. 15-17. 

20 Penny, The Traditions of Perth, pp. 60-61. 

21 The figures we have for the 1770s suggest that the lowest price was 1 guinea per man (1776), 
but in wartime (1777) this rose to 5 or 6 guineas per man: Committee of Shipping Report B92, 
3 December 1776, IOR. 

22 Letter by "A.B.", The Public Advertiser, 12 March 1771. 



this had fallen to 197. 23 The Company Army complained that too few were 
being sent to maintain their regiments and they had to turn to as many 
Europeans in Bengal as they could find to remain effective. 24 In 1759, the 
Court of Directors admitted it was "impossible" to provide the 2,000 men 
required by the army in India because it was experiencing "the greatest 
difficulties in raising recruits". They directed that operations should be 
limited to the manpower available. 25 

After the war, gradually there were changes to the system. In 1769, the 
Company was permitted to raise recruits "by beat of drum", that is, by 
officially advertising rather than by kidnapping, and was also empowered 
to raise a regiment in Britain, with commissioned officers. Complete units 
would be sent out, rather than "trickle-posting" any arrivals. It was permit- 
ted that up to a third of the regiment could consist of "foreign protestants", 
but there was a deep suspicion of enlisting Catholics or Germans. 26 Indeed, 
the Company directors were most concerned that the regiment might be 
answerable only to the British government and could, therefore, threaten 
the independence of the Company altogether. Another issue was cost: for 
all its faults, crimping was cheaper than regular army recruiting or paying 
vast bounties, and the Seven Years War cost the Company a fortune. 

Regular officers in Britain were equally prejudicial on their side about the 
new arrangements. They argued that India was a drain on manpower which 
swallowed up men who should be deployed in the defence of Britain. One 
member of Parliament likened India to "a sink". 27 As a result, the reforms 
failed and the system reverted to crimps, only to collapse once more during 
the American War of Independence until it was decreed that Irishmen might 
be recruited from 1781 onwards. However, standards of recruits remained 
very low, and some were actually sent back to Britain. Figures for the 1790s, 
which appear to be typical even earlier in the century, suggest a rejection 
rate of 10 per cent. 28 Some were: "particularly incapable of carrying the load 
of arms, ammunition, necessaries and provisions, and undergoing hardships 
and fatigues, to which soldiers to be useful; [?] to the public must necessarily 
submit". 29 It was not until 1799 that the practice of crimping was brought 

23 A. J. Farrington, L/Mil/9/85, IOR. 

24 Despatches to Bengal, 25 March 1757, IOR. 

25 Despatches to Bengal, 1759, IOR. 

26 Gilbert, "Recruitment and Reform in the East Indian Company Army", p. 98. 

27 London Evening Post, 16-18 April 1771. 

28 See Colonel Brownrigg's Inspection Records, 1792, WO 113/15: National Archives, Kew. 

29 Court of Directors Letter to Bengal, enc. Cornwallis to Directors, 15 December 1790, L/Mil/ 
Misc/127, IOR. 



to an end and recruitment put under the jurisdiction of the regular army. 30 
However, the Company remained short of European men and failed to fill 
its own quotas. 

The organization, management, and performance of the 
Company Army 

In his account of the fall of Calcutta to Siraj ud-Daula, the nawab of Bengal, 
in 1756, John Holwell noted that the defences were manned by a handful 
of gunners with 145 infantry of which, in total, only 60 were Europeans. 
The militia consisted of 100 "Armenians", who were "entirely useless", and 
a further 100 Indian "boys and slaves who were not capable of holding a 
musket". 31 He estimated that, even with men drafted from the ships in port, 
the garrison numbered only 250, including officers. Predictably, when Siraj 
ud-Daula's forces came into view, the militia deserted and some Company 
officers fled to the ships. The standard interpretation of the war is that 
dramatic improvements were made to the quality of the Indian troops 
through the imposition of discipline and European drill. By increasing 
manpower and quality, the British were able to turn events around. How- 
ever, the improvement of the Indian troops was only part of the formula: 
the logistical expertise of Stringer Lawrence, Vice Admiral Charles Watson's 
amphibious operations up the Hooghly River, and Robert Clive's leadership, 
intrigues, and personal courage were crucial, as was the Company's capacity, 
in contrast the French Company, to fund the conflict. 

The improvements had begun with Stringer Lawrence in Cuddalore in 
1748. He imposed strict discipline on topasses and Europeans alike at Fort St 
David, mindful that Madras had fallen to the more effective French forces. 
In December 1758, that new force was put to the test in a siege at Madras, 
and endured two months of bombardment and more than a thousand 
casualties before it was relieved. But it was also the growing campaign- 
combat experience of the Company troops through the Carnatic Wars 
that made the greatest difference. New units could draw on the expertise 
of veterans, especially junior commanders, and apply this directly to their 

30 A fascinating contrast can be made with the Royal Navy's patterns of recruitment in the late 
eighteenth century. New research by Jeremiah Dancy suggests that "pressed men" constituted 
on average no more than 10 per cent of the crews since ships required skilled labour. The decline 
of crimping coincides with the disfavour towards impressments in the Senior Service: Dancy, 
"British Naval Manpower During the French Revolutionary Wars". 

31 Cited in Lenman, Britain's Colonial Wars, p. 106. 



training. Clive's sepoys displayed remarkable endurance when besieged, on 
campaign marches and in battle. At the siege of Arcot, for example, their 
morale remained intact despite a steady attrition of their numbers, and in 
the march to intercept Dupleix in 1752, his sepoys made 50 miles in just 
twenty hours, covering a total of 66 miles in thirty-six hours and winning 
a night battle at Kaveripak against the odds. At Volconda (or Golkonda) 
(29 May 1752), a force made up almost entirely of Indian personnel in British 
service charged a French battery and their supporting infantry. Despite 
taking heavy casualties, the sepoys pressed home with the bayonet and 
killed or captured the French, which suggests that their discipline, training, 
and trust in their junior leadership were robust. The following year, Subadar 
Sheikh Ibrahim, without any British support, defended his battery position 
against a Franco-Indian force, and earned a significant reward from the 
Company for his devotion to duty. 32 With six years of fighting behind them, 
with improved discipline and the personalized and charismatic leadership 
of Lawrence, Watson, and Clive, the Company had an effective sepoy army 
with naval support to rival the French. 

After the Carnatic/Seven Years War, greater military efficiency in Asian 
units was manifest in other ways. The standards of British recruits coming 
to India showed no sign of improvement, prompting the governor-general 
to write: "what shall I say of the Company's Europeans [soldiers]? [...] I 
would infinitely rather take the 73rd [Native] Regiment upon service with 
me than the six Company's battalions." 33 Such comments have to be seen 
in context: the sentiments maybe exaggerated because of a sense of exas- 
peration. Nevertheless, European officers were aware that Indian troops 
were cheaper, better adapted to cope with the demands of campaigning in 
the heat and humidity of South Asia, and, when trained in the European 
manner, capable of the same achievements. 

Although there had been only companies in the 1740s, it was decided in 
1759 to raise battalions of Indian troops to match the French threat. Two 
had in fact already been formed, but an additional five battalions were 
mobilized. By the end of the war, the Company Army's establishment was 
for ten battalions. Each battalion consisted of nine companies, each of 120 
men, and one of these was a grenadier company. 

In Clive's "Return of 1757", the Indian troops are recorded as having 
various ranks of subadars; jamadars; havildars and naiks; colour (flag) 
men; "Tom Toms" (drummers), trumpeters, and "Seapoys". It had been 

32 Mason, A Matter of Honour, p. 38. 

33 Cornwallis to Dundas, 16 November 1787, Home Misc. Series, vol. 85, IOR. 



assumed in the 1740s that Indian ways were so strange that only Indian 
officers could command Asian troops at the company level. Indeed, the 
first Indian officers were really contractors who served as recruiters for the 
men. Loyalty to the contractor was more important to the early recruits 
than to the Company. But new contracts in the 1750s changed this. Each 
man was made aware that he served the Company and was paid by the 
Company. In November 1755, regulations stipulated that there should be 
one subadar, four jamadars, eight havildars (sergeants), and eight naiks 
(corporals). At the end of the war, this establishment of Indian leaders 
was reduced (one subadar, two jamadars, and six havildars per company) 
and each battalion was furnished with two commissioned officers, three 
sergeant-majors (Europeans), and a "Black Commandant". However, Mason 
noted that these Europeans were in little more than a supervisory capacity 
or there to maintain numbers. There was little chance of promotion as a 
commander in an Indian battalion, as progression could only be made 
in European units. They were to: "make them keep up a good command 
amongst the sepoys and to support them well in it". 34 The sergeant-majors 
were to have "immediate direction of three of the companies" and were 
charged to take "care of their discipline". Mason suggested that the non- 
commissioned officers (NCOs) were the backbone of the Indian units and 
that the concept of gentlemanly officers had not yet manifested itself. He 
also argued that the survival of the "black commandant" was testament to 
the importance of the old "reciprocal" chieftain system. In fact, it seems 
likely that the commandant was an adviser to the Europeans on cultural 
matters and the link to the recruiting base on which the battalion depended. 

What was the appeal for Indian men to serve in the Company army? 
There was not perhaps the strong tradition of service that would come to 
characterize the Rajputs in British formations from the mid-nineteenth 
century. What the British could offer was regular pay at 6 rupees a month. 35 
Many Indian rulers rarely paid their men more than eight months a year, 
leading to widespread brigandage, but even this salary was often in arrears 
and siphoned off in ghost pay-rolling by intermediate commanders. The 
advantage of the small European formations was that it made corruption 
more difficult. The Company was also flexible in its arrangements. Sepoys 
of South India were permitted to take their families along with them to 
stations and garrisons and even on campaign. Pay advances were available, 
and, as early as 1762, sepoys on overseas service could opt to have a portion 

34 Mason, A Matter of Honour, p. 63. 

35 Lenman, Britain's Colonial Wars, p. 100. 



of their pay delivered directly to their families. Indians could pay for com- 
missions from 1763, and these were still relatively cheap (a week's pay in 
1763), making personal advancement possible within the Company Army. 

Many European soldiers, enlisted either as conscripts or volunteers, 
grumbled about having their pay held back because of costs they had to 
meet: 2d here and 2d there for blankets, boots, cleaning equipment, and ad- 
ditional or extraordinary rations. Some soldiers wrote about not being able 
to leave the service because of indebtedness. However, this was not always 
financial, but rather a matter of honour. The Indian expression having to 
remain "true to their salt" seems to have pervaded British personnel in some 
cases and not just the sepoys of the Honourable East India Company. Such 
sentiments would have taken time to develop, but the shared isolation of 
India, regular pay and continuous employment, and the camaraderie of 
the ranks transformed an otherwise alienating experience into a positive 
one. In other words, recruits became regular soldiers with an esprit de 
corps, and a professional indifference to outsiders. Oaths of loyalty were not 
introduced until 1766, but they appear to have underpinned some existing 
understanding about service in the Company Army and how it related to 
concepts of personal honour. 3 * 3 The creation of battalions led to the adoption 
of colours and these were incorporated into a symbiosis of European and 
South Asian rituals to create a bond of loyalty and possession. Southern 
Indian troops, for example, thought of their leaders and their colours as 
distinctly and uniquely theirs. 

Did the Indian infantry in Company service determine the outcome of 
the Carnatic Wars in South Asia? What assessment can be made of their 
effectiveness? It was once assumed that the British possessed technologi- 
cal superiority, which gave them the edge in their engagements with the 
Indian states. In fact, matchlocks with which the Indian forces were armed 
had a higher rate of fire and a marginally greater range than the flintlock, 
although the flintlock, in trained hands, could sustain the same rate of fire. 
Moreover, the French forces in India were armed with the same weapon 
types as the British. Indeed, within a few years, all the armies in India were 
using flintlocks. 

Certainly the British made extensive use of light, quick-firing, manoeu- 
vrable artillery. At Trichinopoly in May 1754, three British six-pounder 
guns devastated French infantry with case-shot at close range. Roundshot 
ricocheting through dense cavalry also warded off large formations of 
mounted men. Artillery was widely available in South Asia but many guns 

36 Mason, A Matter of Honour, p. 66. 



possessed by Indian rulers were fixed or difficult to move, and there was 
little standardization in their ammunition or calibres. However, while 
Indian forces failed to produce guns that could be manoeuvred easily, 
many of the batteries of the southern rulers were staffed by European 
gunners. At Plassey, for example, the guns of Siraj ud-Daula were directed 
by French artillerymen. 

The differences between European and Indian forces were really more 
regular organization and better discipline, which, in turn meant that, on 
the battlefield, sepoys and European troops could maintain a high rate 
of fire and sustain casualties without losing cohesion. These reflected 
a particular type of military labour organization. Large numbers of ill- 
disciplined cavalry or poorly armed peasants, led by individuals who merely 
wished to demonstrate their personal courage, failed against the relentless 
machinery of European warfare. The point is that it did not matter whether 
the forces were Europeans or not; what mattered was their level of training, 
morale, and discipline. 37 It is interesting to note that the Marathas adopted 
European methods to create a disciplined and cohesive army, built up with 
mercenary troops including Europeans in senior positions, and they too 
enjoyed some years of success against the British. 38 

In R.O. Cambridge 's Account of the War in India, published in 1772, the key 
reason for the defeat of Indian armies by the Europeans and their sepoys was 
the former's neglect of infantry. While Indian cavalry were perfectly capable 
of charging against other horsemen, they tended to avoid the well-drilled 
Company infantry for fear of losing their horses on which their wealth 
depended. For the Company, raising and training infantry was cheaper than 
cavalry, and the infantry could hold ports, forts, and garrisons as well as 
act as a strike force. 39 Moreover, if supported by light artillery, infantrymen 
could traverse all terrain in southern India. Certainly the labour categories 
in the 1757 Return for Plassey indicate that all the troops were dismounted. 40 

The lack of cavalry put the Company at a disadvantage in terms of recon- 
naissance and therefore of intelligence-gathering, but this, if anything, 
made them even more dependent on local sources of power, their Indian 
allies, and intrigues against their adversaries. 

37 Ibid., p. 40. 

38 Gordon, The Marathas: 1600-1818. 

39 Lenman, Britain's Colonial Wars, p. 96. 

40 Letters by Clive, 6 February 1757 ff., 1962-10-142, National Army Museum, London. 



Comparative analysis 

The second part of this chapter addresses the comparative elements of the 
early East India Company army in terms of terms of service, type of labour, 
type of army, and the causal drivers of the rise, dominance, or decline of 
the East India Company's forms of military labour. 

In addressing the variables in military labour in the East India Company 
Army, I should first note that the British had always employed local labour 
in India, particularly for the unskilled tasks associated with commerce and 
with the security of their factories, stores, and godowns. Defence against 
more numerous Indian forces relied largely on alliance and negotiations. 
The inadequate nature of peons or topasses in any offensive capacity, 
compared with disciplined and French sepoys, was already evident before 
the Seven Years War broke out, and so it is perhaps no surprise that the 
British enhanced their own systems to deal with the French threat. The 
result was a larger and more effective, if more expensive, Company army 
and, more significantly for this study, a transformation in the character of 
military labour. 

In the terms of service offered, the East India Company barely differenti- 
ated between British and Indian recruits. Troops were paid a regular wage 
in return for military service. Rates of pay were low but were comparatively 
better in real terms to Indian troops. In the recruitment of topasses and 
peons for garrison duty, the rate of pay was high enough to attract some 
men to employment but appeared to be lower than that for most artisans. 
For Europeans, recruiters in Britain would target men who perceived their 
wages to be too low and offer cash inducements and bounties. Nevertheless, 
the Company failed to attract enough men to maintain its regiments in 
wartime and was forced to pay for "crimps" to impress manpower. Crimping, 
despite its unpopularity, proved cheaper than trying to compete in the 
labour market against civilian artisan wages. British soldiers argued that 
they were held in a form of bondage because they became indebted to the 
Company for their rations, uniform, and equipment. By contrast, Indian 
men were paid a regular salary that proved attractive compared with the 
standard practices of Indian rulers or corrupt commanders. Indians in 
British service could transfer salaries to families, purchase commissions, 
and obtain pay advances. 

Soldiers' duration of service was closely related to the issue of pay. The 
topasses who garrisoned Bombay in the 1740s had no specified age limits 
for service and consequently some were quite elderly. European soldiers 
were all considered to be "long service" but many of them were anxious that 



diseases might kill them before they reached the end of their service anyway 
(the death rate being 5 per cent across the army). Nevertheless, Indian and 
British personnel shared the desire to take up regular employment and 
therefore accepted long service as a guarantee of work and wages. 

British soldiers in Company service were subjected to far more legal 
constraints than the Indian personnel, in terms of employment parameters. 
The Company was unable to compete with the regular British Army for 
its recruits in the United Kingdom for many years, and it turned to the 
practice of crimping as a direct result of its consequent manpower short- 
ages. The illegal nature of the practice was ignored by British authorities 
because it tended to sweep up the elements of society that were thought 
"undesirable". The imprisonment of recruits before transportation to India 
was a measure to offset the lack of legal support for recruitment: recruits 
were not subject to martial law and would therefore have simply deserted 
at the first opportunity. However, these conditions suggest that many of 
the British soldiers in the East India Company army could be categorized 
as "conscript-slave". 

The constraints on the employment of Indian troops were cultural rather 
than legal. Caste preferences and ethnic prejudices could limit the type 
of recruit and the tasks they might be expected to perform. The British 
themselves adopted cultural preferences of their own, although pragmatism 
and necessity dictated the numbers and physique of the recruits. For the 
European troops there were added constraints: a desire to avoid the employ- 
ment of too many Catholics and Germans, for example, yet an acceptance 
of criminals. These criteria and the type of recruit the Company managed 
to employ exasperated the officers who sought greater numbers, efficiency, 
and effectiveness. 

In assessing the taxonomy of military labour in the East India Company 
Army, it is necessary to categorize their types and variations. While forms 
of military labour across South Asia as a whole were very mixed, the phe- 
nomenological varieties of military employment are, for the purposes of 
comparison, classified here according to two criteria of either un/free labour 
and un/commodified labour, and the subcategories of ethnic (reciprocal 
labour); enslaved (tributary); conscripted (tributary); mercenary (corn- 
modified); and professional (commodified). In addition, military labour 
in the East India Company Army is assessed against the taxonomies of 
forces that are feudal, aggregate contract, state commission, conscript, or 
modern volunteer armies. This chapter, while to some extent following John 
Lynn's model of acknowledging change and transformation, also addresses 



the issue of typology and its dominance, locating the example of the East 
India Company in the history of military labour embraced by this volume. 

The earliest experiments in using local labour by the East India Company 
were not a success, and in terms of categorization we might identify the 
first "Rajpoot" garrison troops as "mercenary ethnic" although the Chris- 
tian converts and mestees were so outcaste in Bombay that they might be 
described as "conscript ethnic". The British personnel and local militia of 
freeman and landholders recruited by the Company in Bombay in the last 
decade of the seventeenth century appear to fit the category of "mercenary" 
and "mercenary ethnic". In Madras in the 1740s, the 3,000 peons employed 
also seem to fit the category of "mercenary ethnic". After the setbacks of 
1746, where Madras fell to the French, the demand for manpower increased 
but there was no change to the type of South Asian military labour: the 
new, expanded force was still "mercenary ethnic" in character. Garrison 
duties and the protection of lines of communication and depots, for which 
these new forces were required, did not necessitate a change in labour type. 
They were raised on the basis of being a cheap and barely trained force, and 
consequently the quality of these forces was low. 

However, by 1753, the type of labour was in the process of changing 
to "professional ethnic". Robert Clive introduced standard organization, 
intensive training, and regular pay. The seasoning experience of being on 
campaign further improved the quality of the troops, and they began to 
develop a new identity of professional indifference to other South Asian 
forces or populations. However, we should guard against exaggerating 
the change. The muster returns on Clive's forces in 1757 indicate that the 
Company's army was very mixed: while a significant number of men were 
categorized as trained "seapoys", there were still garrison troops and militia. 
In the 1750s, the Company's forces remained a mix of "mercenary ethnic" 
and "professional ethnic". 

The further complication with the Indian personnel of the Company army 
is that, throughout the second half of the eighteenth century, recruits were 
sometimes offered by heads of families and these soldiers were expected 
to enlist through tradition. These men might be regarded as "tributary 
enslaved" labour within a system that was ostensibly "mercenary" and 
"commodified". However, it is also clear that, after the success of Arcot in 
1751 and with the attraction of regular pay, some personnel came forward 
as volunteers. Some recruits self-selected on the basis of caste or ethnicity, 
although the Company Army remained inclusive. The self-perception of 
"professional ethnic" developed through the second half of the eighteenth 
century, but, as a trait throughout South Asia, this perspective was not 



limited to the Company's forces. To enhance further the sense of profes- 
sional status and to ensure there was no fraternization with indigenous 
populations, the Company recruited men from peripheral regions more 
frequently. The selection of former hill-raiders in the Terai region of Bengal 
fit within this design of creating a "professional ethnic" force, but the men 
employed in the Terai case, who were recruited to absorb surplus labour 
that had turned to crime, might be regarded as a category of "ethnic slave". 

The categorization of the Company army is problematized still further 
by the British personnel. Officers were generally "professional-mercenary" 
in their employment, although some used enlistment merely as the means 
to gain access to civilian commercial opportunities in South Asia, and 
therefore regarded themselves as "free" and "uncommodified" labour. 
Soldiers were far more complex. Those pressed into service by aristocratic 
landowners through local businessmen or other intermediaries were es- 
sentially induced to enlist against their will, and therefore were "enslaved". 
Crimping and kidnapping also fall into this taxonomy. Others were lured 
into the army by the chance of better pay or opportunities and might be 
classed as "mercenary". The fact that up to a third of personnel could be 
recruited from foreign, that is European, and sectarian sources suggests 
that a portion of the army could be classed as "mercenary ethnic". Service 
for long periods overseas, for those that remained or survived the ravages 
of climate and disease, led to the steady professionalization of the troops. 
Re-enlistment, or the service of these long-term "professionals", needs to be 
considered as other elements of the Company Army in this period. 

What emerges is an army of Asians and Europeans that was in a period 
of transition. Indian personnel shifted from "mercenary ethnic" to "profes- 
sional ethnic", while British troops broadly changed from "enslaved" to 
"professional" in service but remained "enslaved" or "mercenary" as recruit 
types for most of the century. Yet, the Company Army remained a mixed 
force, its types dependent on tasking as either a field army or garrison 
troops. The army overall was dependent on sources of labour supply, low 
in Britain but abundant in India, and offered terms of service that were 
considered bad in Britain but attractive in South Asia. 

Finally, we must make some assessment of the emergence and domi- 
nance of the forms of military labour in the East India Company Army. 
The reasons for the change in the form of military labour in this period can 
be summarized as a shift in the supply and demand in the military labour 
market; ideological factors (on the British side); financial and economic 
pressures; and changes in the military-strategic situation in South Asia. 
While it is somewhat artificial to attempt to attribute to each of these 



elements a greater or lesser significance, since all are interdependent, it 
was the military-strategic situation that set in motion changes in the form 
and structure of the East India Company's military labour. 

The fundamental insecurity of the Company's position in South Asia, in 
part caused by the decay of the Mogul Empire and in part by the rivalry and 
competition of European and Asian agents, necessitated a more effective 
security force. Attempts to create a compact that prevented the French 
and the British Companies from going to war with each other, even if there 
were "Troubles" in Europe, had failed by 1755. Furthermore, the East India 
Company could not rely entirely on bilateral agreements with local rulers, 
as Siraj ud-Daula demonstrated in 1756. The subsequent security provided by 
the Company's fortresses and new troops acted as a magnet for the traders 
and peasants around Bombay and Madras, and in some cases these popula- 
tions provided services, Company servants, and troops. The Maratha raids 
and the siege of Madras in 1741 nevertheless underscored the vulnerability 
of the British factories and their dependence on maritime support. 

It was the French attack on Madras in 1746, launched by 1,100 Europeans 
and 800 French sepoys against a garrison of 200 barely trained militia, that 
spurred the Company to improve its security and release the necessary 
capital. Fort St David was saved only by the intervention of the Royal Navy 
in 1748, and it seemed that the Company was clinging to its possessions by 
its fingernails. Lawrence's rapid training of a sepoy force enabled him to 
achieve a small but significant victory at Cuddalore. Dupleix, in command 
of Pondicherry, used 3,000 sepoys to defend the town against a British am- 
phibious operation led by Admiral Edward Boscawan in 1748, but the British 
already had 3,500 sepoys in their own force to augment their relatively small 
European contingent. By 1752, when Lawrence surrounded the French at 
Sriringham Island, the Company had a large and experienced force of Indian 
troops led by equally seasoned officers. By the end of the war, there were 
ten Indian battalions in Madras alone, representing a force approaching 
10,000 men. With the infantry came the mobile British artillery that could 
fire faster and with greater reliability than any Asian equivalent. 

To support this apparatus, the Company marshalled its finances care- 
fully, while the fortunes of the French Compagnie des Indes dwindled. 
Nevertheless, the demands of war tended to push the Company officers 
towards further conquest to meet the costs and realize the wealth in Mysore, 
Arcot, Trichinopoly, and Tanjore. Clive acknowledged that control of these 
territories and their land revenue was "what we are contending for" in the 
conflict, which has subsequently been termed "military-fiscalism". The war 



had "militarized" the Company in Madras and set up a model which was 
to be replicated in Bengal. 

The fall of Calcutta further necessitated an expansion of the Company's 
security forces. Watson and Clive launched an aggressive campaign to 
recover the city and then to take the fight deep into Bengal. Again the 
navy's support was vital, but the decisive element was Clive's exploitation 
of the resentment of Siraj ud-Daula by Mir Jafar, his chief of staff, and his 
subsequent defection at Plassey. 

Financial considerations had formerly limited the size, form, and quality 
of the Company's military labour but the necessity for more manpower 
and greater efficiency on operations in the 1750s came to override the 
desire for economy. In the case of European personnel, the difficulties of 
raising sufficient numbers of men, made worse by the wastage of disease, 
remained constant throughout the period, but it proved far easier and 
more cost-effective to enlist larger numbers of Asian troops. Wastage rates 
among Asian personnel were also lower. Moreover, the terms and condi- 
tions of service were regarded as unsatisfactory by British troops whereas 
indigenous personnel embraced opportunities for regular pay. 

The "ideological" element of the British approach to military labour is 
problematic. A comparative study of the situation in Great Britain and 
in India in the eighteenth century reveals the universal assumptions the 
British brought with them about recruitment and the practical demands 
for manpower, diminishing notions of a specifically "Orientalist" approach 
in the subcontinent. At the same time, the diversity of the regions the 
British encountered, separated as they were by distinct cultures and 
customs, forced the British to adapt their practices. They did so in an 
entirely pragmatic fashion to achieve the primary objective of asserting 
their supremacy and maintaining good order. While the British always 
favoured physically tall and robust recruits from rural areas, they put more 
emphasis on discipline, drill, and endurance. Experienced officers and 
NCOs were preferred, but this was not limited to Europeans. The Company 
army was not deployed only against the French, although this had been the 
priority in the 1740s and 1750s. The army was required to protect vulnerable 
lines of communication and garrison conquered areas to ensure internal 
security. In Scotland, the senior officers of the army apparently regarded 
recruitment as a tool to employ and therefore absorb excess manpower 
in marginal areas to prevent civil disorder. The same practice may have 
influenced them in India. However, it is clear that they placed loyalty high 
on their agenda, and believed governments had to make their presence 
felt within their territories to discourage rioting, rebellion, and raiding. 



In India, they maintained this framework, but increasingly paid attention 
to local systems of patronage and adapted recruitment accordingly. It was 
perhaps significant that the commander of the Madras Presidency Army 
was Yusuf Khan, a low-caste Hindu who had converted to Islam, embraced 
the Company, and rose rapidly through the ranks. 

Indian recruits enlisted with a set of cultural norms which the Com- 
pany embraced and incorporated into their army, even though they often 
misunderstood and misinterpreted the nature of local societies. While 
some attempts were made to "Europeanize" their drill and appearance, the 
Company agreed to recognize the ideas of "warrior castes" and incorporated 
local expectations and rituals, filtered through the lens of expectations 
formed by British cultural norms. This ability to transcend their own 
ideological parameters and create a new synthesis of identity among their 
military personnel proved to be an enduring strength of the Company 
Army, but its neglect and erosion were a source of anger and frustration 
that contributed to the outbreak of the Mutiny in 1857. 

The conclusion that might be drawn on the character of the sepoy army 
in the Carnatic Wars is that it was recruited out of necessity and emer- 
gency, and was certainly modelled on the French system, but was really 
a pragmatic response to an enhanced strategic threat, the need to keep 
down costs, and the availability of a pool of manpower. The significance 
of the Indian troops can be exaggerated and authors have tended to focus 
on it because of its later proud history, or because it appeared to become 
the instrument of imperial oppression. In fact, it was one tool - alongside 
the Company's wealth, the initiative of its local leaders, and the presence 
of the Royal Navy - that helped to neutralize its European and Asian rivals. 
The purpose of the army was to fulfil the tasks of the East India Company, 
namely the acquisition of trade and land revenue. 

"The scum of every county, the refuse of 

Recruiting the British Army in the eighteenth century 
Peter Way 

"There are two ways of recruiting the British army", wrote Campbell Dal- 
rymple in his 1761 military manual, 

the first and most eligible [best] by volunteers, the last and worst by a 
press. By the first method, numbers of good men are enrolled, but the 
army is greatly obliged to levity, accident, and the dexterity of recruit- 
ing officers for them; by the second plan, the country gets clear of their 
banditti, and the ranks are filled up with the scum of every county, the 
refuse of mankind. They are marched loaded with vice, villainy, and 
chains, to their destined corps, where, when they arrive, they corrupt 
all they approach, and are whipt out, or desert in a month. 1 

In times of war, the fiscal-military state's appetite for soldiers proved vora- 
cious. 2 The strength of the British Army in the Seven Years War swelled from 
roughly 31,000 men to 117,000 (on paper or 93,000 in effective strength) from 
1755 to 1762, with the army in America accounting for 30,000 of these troops 
at its peak strength. 3 This did not include the numerous provincial troops 
of the colonies, which numbered from nearly 10,000 to in excess of 20,000 

1 Dairy mple, A Military Essay, p. 8. 

2 Military mobilization constituted the greatest enterprise in European societies at this time. 
The armies of the main European military powers, France, Spain, the Habsburg Empire, Prussia, 
and Russia, often reached into the hundreds of thousands in times of war. John Childs estimated 
that in 1756, for example, Austria's army numbered 201,000, France's 330,000, Russia's 330,000, 
Prussia's 143,000, and Britain's 91,179. Even relatively small states fielded sizeable armies, such 
as Hesse-Cassel (16,500), Hanover (29,000), and Wiirttemberg (12,000). In total, fourteen states 
fielded 1,300,000 men, and this prior to full mobilization for the Seven Years War. See Childs, 
Armies and Warfare in Europe, p. 42. 

3 Conway, War, State, and Society, pp. 56-59; Pargellis, "The Four Independent Companies 
of New York"; Selesky, War and Society in Colonial Connecticut, p. m. See also Lucassen and 
Lucassen, "The Mobility Transition in Europe Revisited", p. 76. 



men in any given year during the war. 4 The combined figure of 40,000 to 
50,000 should be doubled to arrive at total combatants when considering 
losses due to battlefield casualties, victims of disease or accident, desertion, 
and the end of service terms. These numbers were no small matter for any 
society, especially considering that the overwhelming majority of recruits 
came from Britain. 5 

The British Army of the eighteenth century had become a modern vol- 
unteer force, with a number of qualifications. Impressment (i.e., conscrip- 
tion) was the most significant departure, although it only ever generated a 
distinct minority of soldiers. Britain also relied on mercenary forces hired 
from independent German polities, largely to fight for its interests on the 
continent, but also in the American Revolution across the Atlantic. The 
army arrived at this particular configuration as the result of a number of 
long-term historical processes, the first being political in nature. Through- 
out the seventeenth century, England engaged in ongoing internal conflict 
and regime change - civil war, regicide, creation of the Commonwealth, 
restoration of the monarchy, and revolution - that occupied it at home. 
But with the defeat of the Stuarts, pacification of Ireland, union with 
Scotland, and, ultimately, succession of the Hanoverian regime it secured 
its domestic sphere (excepting several Jacobite uprisings), and expanded 
its human resources that could be turned from the plow to the sword. 
Secondly, the changes in military tactics, technology, and scale associated 
with the military revolution and the rise of the fiscal-military state stoked 
European wars. Late to join in this acceleration of armed conflict, Britain 
in the eighteenth century became a leading player, fielding ever-larger 
armies and constructing a state capable of combating continental powers. 

Most profoundly, the economic and social transformations associated 
with the transition to capitalism positioned Britain at the forefront of 
modernity in terms of waging war. The conversion of agriculture and 
landholding patterns to commercial production, the expansion of handi- 
craft industries through the reorganization of production, the tapping of 
global trade through the creation of commercial trading companies and 
expansion of the merchant fleet, and the establishment of colonies rich 
in raw materials substantially enhanced the productivity of Britain's 
economy, enabling it to fund grossly expensive wars. At the same time, 

4 For the numbers of provincial troops requested and the number to actually take the field 
between 1759 and 1762, see The Journal of Jeffery Amherst, pp. 327-331. 

5 Conway estimates that 147,000 men from Britain and Ireland served in the regular army 
during the Seven Years' War: War, State, and Society, p. 65. 



these developments, by pushing many agricultural laborers off the land 
through enclosure and changes to agricultural practices, as well as many 
artisans out of the trades due to the inexorable deskilling of the crafts, 
created a proletariat with nothing but their labor to sell, and in times of 
war the army proved an insatiable consumer of labor. Furthermore, states 
fought wars of an increasingly commercial nature to maximize national 
wealth through the defense of home industries, the protection of trade, and 
the acquisition of colonies, their resources, and peoples. Warfare intimately 
intertwined with developing capitalism, and military recruitment played 
a key role in the freeing of labor power to work in the interests of capital. 
Mobilization functioned as a component of the process of the "primitive 
accumulation" of capital (to use Marx's term), which acted to "free" laborers 
from traditional economic relationships, alienate them from control of the 
means of production, and harness their labor to commercial activity that 
benefited others. 

The soldiers' story forms part of a broader proletarian tale, but it is also 
specific to military workers. And, in the case of the British Army, even that 
is not a single tale but one with many plots as Britain pulled together diverse 
peoples from its dominions through force, inducements, or lack of other 
options. Soldiers came from specific historical backgrounds character- 
ized by particular economic and social relationships, which recruitment 
necessarily disrupted, not only for the individual recruit but also for the 
community from which the army extracted him. By the time of the Seven 
Years War, market forces obtained in England and Wales, Scotland, and 
Ireland, albeit in varying configurations, making their populations recep- 
tive to recruitment and giving the British Army its modern complexion. In 
the American colonies, however, the economy had not developed to this 
extent and labor scarcity prevailed, meaning fewer men proved receptive 
to long-term service in the regular army and recruitment met with outright 
resistance, in a foreshadowing of the Revolution, although many joined the 
colonial forces on yearly enlistments as a means of accumulating capital for 
their own economic advancement. More than a simple contract between 
an individual and institution, states, societies, cultures, and communities 
negotiated military labor. The fiscal-military state thus played an important 
role in the economic transformation of England and its satellites through 
its harnessing of human labor to national warmaking in the interest of 
commercial economic activity. 




Military mobilization in the early modern era occurred in three ways. 
States commissioned noblemen to raise a stipulated number of troops or 
contracted fighting units from foreign military enterprisers, but neither pro- 
vided it with direct control of the fighting force. Finally, the state compelled 
men to fight through pressing those without apparent employment, crimi- 
nals, and convicts, or by imposing a levy on districts or cities to field a set 
number of men, a procedure that met with resistance due to its involuntary 
nature. By the end of the seventeenth century, however, the modern form 
of mobilization had emerged, in which the nation-state directly raised and 
administered a standing army. In central and eastern Europe, particularly 
in Prussia, centralized systems of conscription developed which essentially 
coerced military labor in wartime, whereas the Habsburg territories, France, 
and Spain relied more extensively on volunteers to stock their armies. 6 

The British came to depend upon volunteers due in part, paradoxically, 
to its unpopularity. The army's role in the Civil War and English Revolution 
engendered a fear that the military posed a potential threat to the civil 
power and rights of Englishmen that had to be kept in check. The often- 
unscrupulous operations of regular recruiting parties, and the periodic 
adoption of press acts during wartime alienated many. To help ease these 
fears the standing army relied upon annual parliamentary enabling legisla- 
tion by a Mutiny Act, while the civil power regulated recruitment, and 
adopted conscription only in times of need. 7 

Recruits usually received a cash bounty from which to purchase a shirt 
and shoes. Recruits were acquainted with the articles of war and, according 
to the Mutiny Act, had to be brought before a justice of the peace or consta- 
ble more than twenty-four hours after but within four days of enlistment to 
attest to their willingness to join the army. If a recruit denied his willingness 
to serve he had to repay the money he had received upon enlisting as well 
as a penalty of 20 shillings for costs incurred by the recruiting party. Once 
the party had gathered a body of recruits, they took them to a recruiting 
depot or back to the regiment. Competition among regiments for troops and 
the uncoordinated nature of regiment-based recruiting made recruiting 

6 Redlich, The German Military Enterpriser and His Work Force; Parker, The Army of Flanders 
and the Spanish Road, pp. 29-39; Childs, Armies and Warfare in Europe, pp. 49-54; Anderson, 
War and Society in the Old Regime, pp. 16-32; Wilson, German Armies, p. 277; Black, European 
Warfare 7660-7875, pp. 218-224. 

7 Childs, "The Restoration of the Army 1660-1702", p. 53; Steppler, "The Common Soldier in 
the Reign of George III", pp. 1-3. 



in England difficult. Death, desertion, drafting into other regiments, and 
discharges meant the necessity of constant recruitment. J.A. Houlding 
calculated that the regiments stationed in the British Isles had to recruit 
1.5 per cent of their strength on a monthly basis during peacetime, and 
2.1 per cent in wartime. Thus, regiments often found it hard to get enough 
men to maintain their strength. Some recruited year-round, establishing 
depots and having recruiters on permanent duty. Others turned to "crimps", 
private individuals paid by regiments to perform recruiting in the stead of 
a formal military recruiting party. Recruiters and, especially, crimps who 
had a vested economic interest in producing recruits, did not scruple at 
kidnapping men and spiriting them away to military service. 8 

The British state also coerced men into the army, adopting impressment 
during every major war of the eighteenth century, although it functioned in 
a more limited fashion than did the naval press gang. Civil magistrates and 
constables oversaw impressment, which targeted (in the words of the first 
Press Act of 1756) "able bodied Men as do not follow or exercise any lawful 
Calling or Employment, or have not some lawful and sufficient Support". 
Such men would be brought before the commissioners to determine if they 
were suitable for impressment, the officials receiving payment for each man 
pressed. Owning property or possessing the right to vote protected one 
from the press, as did providing a substitute. Having a large family, being 
too old or infirm, bearing a good character, or having friends in high places 
could extricate a man from service; a bad reputation or lack of employment 
doomed him to the army. 9 

The Newcastle ministry by the end of 1755 had decided to raise ten new 
regiments as the Seven Years War loomed, and the need for these addi- 
tional forces became more urgent in 1756 when fears of a French invasion 
heightened. With the numbers of volunteers seemingly dwindling, Parlia- 
ment passed a Press Act in March 1756, but the Privy Council suspended it 
within a month as the invasion threat had incited enough men to volunteer. 

8 Steppler, "The Common Soldier in the Reign of George III", pp. 8-18; Frey, The British Soldier 
in America, pp. 3-4; Childs, The British Army of William III, pp. 108-114; Middleton, "The Recruit- 
ment of the British Army", p. 228; Brewer, Sinews of Power, pp. 49-50; Houlding, Fit for Service, 
pp. 125-126. 

9 Press Act cited in Middleton, "The Recruitment of the British Army", p. 229; Brewer, The 
Sinews of Power, pp. 49-50; Henry Moore, "A return of men inlisted at Guil[d]ford in the County 
of Surr[e]y by the Commissioners and Justices", 10 April 1756, no. 1035, box 23 Loudoun Papers, 
North American, Manuscript Department, Henry E. Huntington Library, San Marino, California 
[henceforth, in form LO1035/23]; Gilbert, "Charles Jenkinson and the Last Army Press", p. 7, 
"Army Impressment during the War of the Spanish Succession". 



However, by August upon further expansion of the army, it soon became 
clear the number of volunteers had dwindled, and the government adopted a 
new Press Act. This act proved less successful, and in 1757 political pressure 
made Pitt abandoned it. 10 Yet London, for example, yielded 500 pressed men 
in 1756 for service in the 35th Regiment alone. Coerced soldiers tended, 
not surprisingly, to be less enthusiastic about military life, often deserting 
from the transports before sailing and upon arrival in America. Loudoun 
reported of the 35th's "raw" troops, "the prest Men, I dare not yet trust 
so near the enemy", as he had six desert to the French together, two of 
whom were discovered starving in the woods and promptly hanged. 11 The 
army also took up reluctant troops in other manners. People convicted of a 
crime received pardons contingent on enlisting in the army. Thus, William 
Desborough, found guilty of stealing sheep in November 1760 and sentenced 
to death at Huntingdon, earned a pardon by enlisting in a regiment of foot. 
Similarly John Baker, Jeremiah Smith, Charles Dailey, and Thomas Elliott, 
sentenced to death for highway robbery at Maidstone that same month, 
received pardons predicated upon joining the 49th Regiment in Jamaica, 
which often equated to a delayed form of capital punishment due to the 
high mortality rate resulting from tropical diseases in the West Indies. 12 

The Duke of Wellington, military hero of the Napoleonic wars, famously 
referred to his troops as "the scum of the earth". 13 Such a negative perspec- 
tive not only mirrored the point of view of British soldiers; it also persists 
today among some historians of the army. 14 Such classist language not only 
insults its subject; it also prevents any serious engagement with the social 
background of soldiers or the historical processes by which they came to 
serve in the army. Lumping them together as the residue at the bottom of 
society excuses military historians from conceptualizing these men as 
either historical agents or victims of power structures; they become merely 

10 Middleton, "The Recruitment of the British Army", pp. 228-230; Gilbert, "Charles Jenkinson 
and the Last Army Press", p. 7; Gilbert, "An Analysis of Some Eighteenth Century Army Recruiting 
Records", p. 39. 

11 Maj. Henry Fletcher, "A Return of a Detachment; Impressed Men; and Recruits of His 
Majesties [sic] Thirty Fifth regiment of Foot", 4 Sep. 1756, LO2774/44; Loudoun to Daniel Webb, 
27 March 1756, London, LO974/21; [Loudoun] to Colonel Burton, 17 Sep. 1756, LO1828/41; [Loud- 
oun] To the Duke of Cumberland, 3 Oct. 1756, LO1968/44. 

12 Calendar of Home Office Papers of the Reign of George III, p. 13. 

13 Henry, Notes of Conversations with the Duke of Wellington, p. 14. 

14 For example, Chandler and Beckett, the editors of The Oxford History of the British Army, 
purport: "Soldiers were inevitably recruited from the dregs of society [...] The unattractive 
features of service life which persisted until the very end of the nineteenth century were not 
conducive to recruiting the more respectable elements of society" (p. xvi). 



soldiers, units of a more important whole, subsumed within histories of the 
army that assume nationalist discourses. Dalrymple, at least, captured the 
distinction between "good men" who volunteered and the pressed "scum of 
every county", though the class bias of an army officer still came through. 
Closer attention to the backgrounds of recruits, however, reveals a martial 
workforce that neatly mirrored the laboring classes of the era, making 
soldiers more the salt of the earth than its scum. 

The common conception of soldiers presumed they hailed from the 
rootless mass that willingly lived idle and unproductive lives, exactly the 
people for whom the state drafted vagrancy and poor laws as well as press 
acts. Stripped of the moral content such a perspective contains an element 
of truth. The proletariat thrust up by primitive accumulation, the people 
who lived by the sweat of their labor and had a tenuous grasp on subsistence, 
undoubtedly counted military service as one certain form of employment. 
But they alone could never satisfy the army's demand for manpower during 
wartime, especially on the scale of the Seven Years War, when recruitment 
cut deeply into the British populace. At the same time, economic change 
cut adrift craftsmen as well as common laborers. Periodic downturns and 
the high unemployment and prices that came with them had an impact 
throughout the laboring classes, while changes in the nature of craft 
production undermined some artisans' ability to achieve subsistence and 
rendered others surplus to their masters' need. Elsewhere I have utilized 
data garnered from the Out-Pension Books of the Royal Chelsea Hospital 
to explore the economic background of Britain's soldiers in the Seven Years 
War, a study that revealed an unexpectedly skilled background: those with 
trades accounted for almost half the men, while manual laborers made for in 
excess of 40 per cent. Within the crafts three trades predominated - textile 
workers, shoemakers, and tailors - crafts among the first to experience the 
reorganization of production attendant upon primitive accumulation. 15 

The British Army, as well as drawing soldiers from the wider laboring 
classes, also cast the net widely in recruiting to fill the ranks. While in 
reality an expression of English might, the army in its social composition 
more exactly reflected the imperial reach of that might. Fighting on the 
scale that William Pitt aspired to in the Seven Years War required an army 
beyond the means of England alone, even beyond those of Great Britain. 
England looked elsewhere in its dominions to man its army, to domains 
already compromised by English imperialism, Scotland and Ireland, and 

15 Royal Hospital, Chelsea: Disability and Royal Artillery Out-Pensions, Admission Books, Series 
116, War Office Papers, PRO, UK; Way, "Rebellion of the Regulars"; Marx, Capital, pp. 784-848. 



beyond. One could argue that the British Army was the most British of 
institutions by the mid-eighteenth century. Regimental returns for the 
army in America in 1757 reveal an ethnically heterogeneous rank and file. 
The English-born accounted for 29.7 per cent of the whole, Scots 27.3 per 
cent, Irish 27.3 per cent, and continental Europeans 4.3 per cent. Colonials 
made up 5.3 per cent of the army, while foreign-born residents of America 
equaled 5.7 per cent (see Table 10.1 and Chart 10.1). 

Table 10.1 Nativity of NCOs and Private Soldiers in America, 1757 










listed in 





in Europe 



No. % 

No. % 

No. % 

No. % 

No. % 

No. % 

4212 29.8 

3873 27.4 

3874 27.4 

755 5.3 

607 4.3 

803 5.7 


Sources: LO4011/no. 1/90; L06695/99; L02533/no. 4/90; L02529/no. 1/90; LO4012/no. 1/90; L01944 
no. 5/90; LO 6616/88; L01683/no. 1/90; L05661/85; L01391/no. 1/90; L01384/no. 2/90; L03936/ 
no. 1/90; L06639/89; L01345/no. 5/90; L06616/88; LO4068/no. 2/90; Return of Four Independent 
Companies, 15 July 1757, L06616/88.The returns represented 14,124 common soldiersand 
noncommissioned officers of the army in America's total strength of approximately 20,000 men. 
See Brumwell, Redcoats, p. 20. 

Chart 10.1 

□ English 
S Scottish 
Z Irish 

■ American Colonials 

0 Foreigners enlisted in Europe 

□ Foreigners enlisted in America 

Given the relative populations of these elements of Greater Britain, it is 
clear that Scotland and Ireland disproportionately manned the army. 




Working from population estimates for the respective nations (see Table 
10.2), each soldier born in England or Wales (Welsh soldiers are typically 
subsumed with the English in army returns) who served in the regular 
army in America in 1757 represented 1,599 inhabitants of their homeland. 
By comparison every Irish soldier served for 824 fellow Irish people, whereas 
a Scottish soldier left only 327 Scots proportionately at home. Thus, an 
Irishman was roughly twice as likely and a Scottish male five times as 
likely to serve in the American army than an Englishman or Welshman. 
Furthermore, the data estimated total population, male and female, so to 
arrive at a true approximate service ratio we need to halve those figures, 
meaning that English and Welsh men had a likelihood of 1 in 800 of serving 
in the American army, Irish 1 in 422, and Scots 1 in 164. Moreover, the ratio 
for Scots overstates the case, as the majority of recruits were drawn from 
the Highlands, which was less populous than the Lowlands. Finally, these 
calculations do not take into account those soldiers serving within Great 
Britain, on the European continent, in the West Indies, or elsewhere in the 
British Empire. Clearly the male populations of Ireland and Scotland had 
been harnessed to the British war machine, disproportionate contributions 
that resulted from specific historical developments. Mobilization thus took 
place in distinct settings, operating differently in and having a differential 
impact on each locale. A review of the main theatres of mobilization makes 
this clear, but also reveals a central thread in the process: the interconnect- 
edness of the raising of armies and economic transformations associated 
with the emergence of capitalism taking place within these societies. 

Table 10.2 Population ratios by nativity for British NCOs and private soldiers in 
America, 1757 



No. of 

Ratio to 

England and 
















*Source: Mitchell, British Historical Statistics, p. 8. 

The fact that soldiers came from all ranks of laboring classes and across the 
empire means that any engagement with the military as a socioeconomic 
institution must make allowance for the contingencies of different histori- 



cal class experiences. At the same time, the commercialization of human 
relationships strikes a recurring theme in these different histories. Such 
change weakened or severed peoples' grasp on subsistence attained by 
working the land or plying a trade, as a result preparing them for wage labor 
including that in the army. 

England, military metropole 

Linda Colley maintained that the series of wars between Britain and France 
from 1689 to 1815 constructed Britishness, a sense of difference from those 
people outside Great Britain, largely founded upon Protestantism and forged 
in warfare, which connected its different parts together.' 6 Colley's model has 
been criticized for its exaggeration of the integrating powers of Protestant- 
ism, her timing of the real unification of national interests within Great 
Britain, and, most tellingly, its Anglocentrism. In many ways, Britain should 
be understood as England writ large. England constituted the heart of the 
British dominions. England's Parliament controlled Wales and Scotland 
from 1707, and retained final authority over the Irish Parliament. The fiscal- 
military state operated essentially in the interest of England in harvesting 
taxes and duties from across its possessions, and developing military policy 
with the defense of England as its main priority. English diplomats crafted 
foreign policy to ensure the established Protestant religion, promoted 
trade that primarily benefited England, and protected the interests of the 
Hanoverian regime. And, when diplomacy failed, England's politicians set 
the country on a war footing, dragging Wales, Scotland, Ireland, and its 
other dependencies along too. Fighting wars, however, constituted one area 
where the English willingly shared the effort and the results. 

The opening of hostilities with the French in the Seven Years War and 
the rapid escalation in the scale of mobilization sent recruiting parties out 
across England in a quest to satisfy the need for military manpower. The 
press played a role but voluntarism proved essential to the war effort. Why 
men willingly enlist to fight in wars is a question that has long intrigued 
military historians. Patriotism immediately suggests itself, and one should 
not underestimate its power in an era that witnessed the emergence of 
strong nationalist and imperialist currents in British culture. 17 Just as often, 
historians note that recruits joined up for adventure, or in flight from 

16 Colley, Britons, pp. 3-6, 9, 11-19, 38-46, 55"57- 

17 Wilson, "Empire ofVirtue". 



boring laboring life, overbearing parents, a demanding master, a clinging 
love interest, or the law. The fact that most recruits were youths in their 
late teens to early twenties supports the wanderlust explanation. As well, 
economic necessity prompted enlistment, according to historians of early 
modern armies. At times of poor harvests and high prices, unemployed or 
underemployed individuals without the means to support themselves opted 
for the wage, food, and clothing of the soldier. 18 

But one must be wary of perceiving a whiplash effect between immediate 
short-term economic depression and military enlistment. Recruitment 
cannot be measured by a price index. Long-term economic forces played 
the primary role, restructuring economies in ways that increased produc- 
tivity and created a labor surplus that both helped to pay for wars and 
produced the manpower necessary to do the fighting. And the English 
agrarian economy proved so productive that it required fewer people to 
work the land, thus freeing others to work in industry, or indeed the army. 19 
As the leading commercial nation of Europe, England led the way in the 
capitalist reconfiguration of society. Agricultural improvement, including 
the enclosure and conversion of common lands to market production, the re- 
organization of production within certain trades, and the resultant creation 
of a landless, tradeless proletariat provided the army with a ready supply 
of recruits, willing or not. Moreover, England suffered economic depres- 
sion and incidents of famine beginning in 1756, leading to unemployment, 
strikes, bread riots, and general discontent at exactly the time recruitment 
ramped up for the Seven Years War. 20 James Wolfe, sent with troops to 
quell disturbances among Gloucester weavers late in 1756, expressed some 
sympathy with their situation in letters to his mother. "The obstinacy of the 
poor, half-starved weavers of broad-cloth that inhabit this extraordinary 
country is surprising. They beg about the country for food, because, they say, 
the masters have beat down their wages too low to live upon, and I believe 
it is a just complaint." At the same time, he recognized their desperation 
could prove a bonus for the army. "I hope it will turn out a good recruiting 
party, for the people are so oppressed, so poor and so wretched, that they 

18 Anderson, War and Society in the Old Regime, pp. 46, 121-123; Steppler, "The Common Soldier 
in the Reign of George III", pp. 32-35; Guy, "The Army of the Georges", p. 95. 

19 Wrigley, "Society and the Economy in the Eighteenth Century", pp. 72-73, 76-81, 89-91. 

20 Rule, The Vital Century, pp. 102-104, no, 147-148, The Labouring Classes in Early Industrial 
England, pp. 256-259; Malcolmson, Life and Labour in England, pp. 113, 125; Hayter, The Army 
and the Crowd, pp. 84-87; Brewer, The Sinews of Power, pp. 52-53. 



will perhaps hazard a knock on the pate for bread and clothes, and turn 
soldiers through sheer necessity." 21 

Stay and starve in England only to get a knock on the head for protesting 
your condition, or join the army; many faced this conundrum in the Seven 
Years War. Merchant capital required armed forces to secure and defend 
its interests, and the changes initiated by capital accumulation - both in 
the long-term structural changes that freed labor power and in the short- 
term economic crises that undercut subsistence - generated capital's own 
martial labor force. The fact that Britain rose to the status of most advanced 
economic power and the dominant military power in the mid-eighteenth 
century derived from no mere coincidence. This story, so familiar from read- 
ing Marx and the great British Marxist historians, 22 proves more complex, 
for remember that only three in ten soldiers in the British Army in America 
came from England. Viewing the British army as simply the product of 
internal English economic developments obscures the heterogeneity of the 
very institution, and the multiple sources of manpower it tapped to wage 
war, each a product of particular historical forces. 

Scotland, the military plantation 

"I am for always having in our army as many Scottish soldiers as possible", 
William Wildman, Lord Barrington, the member of Parliament for the 
border town Berwick-upon-Tweed, avowed to the House of Commons in 1751, 
"not that I think them more brave than those of any other country we can 
recruit from, but because they are generally more hardy and less mutinous; 
and of all Scottish soldiers I should choose to have and keep in our army 
as many Highlanders as possible." Whereas Colley reads this comment as 
a measure of Scotland's successful integration into Great Britain, Andrew 
Mackillop believes Barrington's views reflected Britain's "cannon-fodder 
policy", whereby in the aftermath of the failed Jacobite uprising of 1745-1746, 
Britain harnessed Gaelic militarism to its overseas imperial interests, but 
not until the Seven Years War did Britain's policy of stripping the Highlands 
to wage its wars become fully realized. 23 

21 Wolfe to his mother, n.d. Nov. 1756, Wolfe to his mother, 24 Oct. 1756, in Willson, The Life 
and Letters of James Wolfe, pp. 304-306. 

22 Here, I will only mention E. P. Thompson and the "bible" of labor history, The Making of the 
English Working Class. 

23 Barrington cited in Colley, Britons, p. 125; Mackillop, "More Fruitful than the Soil", p. 58. 



The fact that English military policy had a direct impact on the govern- 
ance of Scotland in general and the Highlands in particular derived from 
the Act of Union and the abolition of the Scottish Parliament. The British 
Army played a central role in the Highlands, forming six independent 
Highland companies in 1725 to police the region and build roads to make 
the "savage" Highlands more accessible to British rule and commerce. In 
1739, it formed four further companies, and the ten companies combined to 
form the Black Watch, the first regiment of Highland troops incorporated 
within the regular army. In 1745, John Campbell, 4th Earl of Loudoun 
(commander-in-chief in America, 1756-1758), formed a second regiment. 24 
In the short term, British Army recruitment in the Highlands remained 
inseparable from the repression of the Jacobite threat, finally laid to rest on 
Culloden field in 1746. The army then raided the territories of rebels, taking 
prisoners, disarming suspected rebels, laying waste crops, and confiscating 
livestock. Trials were held and more than 100 captives executed for treason, 
and many more were transported to the colonies as indentured servants or 
to serve as troops in regiments stationed abroad. The British government 
adopted a number of legislative measures intended to subordinate the 
Highlands, confiscating rebel lands, disarming the populace, banning the 
wearing of tartans, regulating the practice of religion, and reforming the 
legal system. The army played a central role in reclamation of the Highlands, 
becoming the British state's most powerful expression in this region tainted 
by rebellion. 25 The threat of Jacobitism had directed government policy 
into a military sphere, and ensured the persistence of a cultural form, clan- 
ship, that it was meant to eradicate. In the process, England ghettoized the 
Highlands as "an imperial-military reservoir". 26 

Britain then set about reorganizing the region's economy on the pattern 
of commercial agricultural production developing in England, establishing 
the Board of Annexed Estates to manage the thirteen estates annexed to 
the crown (other confiscated properties were auctioned off to pay debts). It 
also shouldered the task of "improving" the Highland agricultural economy 
by converting clan patterns of land management to a more commercial 

24 Plank, Rebellion and Savagery, pp. 18-21; Mackillop, "More Fruitful than the Soil", pp. 13-20, 
22, 29. 

25 Youngson, After the Forty-Five, pp. 25-26; Houlding, Fit for Service, p. 13; Plank, Rebellion and 
Savagery, pp. 1-3, 6. 

26 Mackillop, "More Fruitful than the Soil", pp. 39-40. Scots also had a history of service in 
continental armies, particularly that of France. See McCorry, "Rats, Lice and Scotchmen". 



basis. 27 It soon developed a program that set about shortening leases, pro- 
moting single-tenant farms of sufficient size to produce market surpluses, 
establishing security of tenure, removing surplus farm labor, restricting 
subtenure and evicting unwanted tenantry, better managing husbandry, 
and developing new villages. These acts led to large-scale eviction in 
some areas and sparked fears of depopulation. In 1760, the commissioners 
proposed "the propagation of a hardy and industrious race, fit for serving 
the public in war". 28 This position merely recognized an ongoing process 
by which military service absorbed much of the surplus labor generated by 
changes to the Highland economy. 

With the outbreak of hostilities with France, concern over the use of 
Highland troops dissipated, and William Pitt, who took power in November 
1756, decided to raise two new battalions of Highland troops from clans 
that had followed the Stuarts. Fortuitously, just as economic depression 
in England had facilitated mobilization, so did famine in Scotland in 1757. 
Another Highland battalion formed in 1758, two more in 1759, and by 
war's end ten new battalions of Highlanders had been raised, making the 
Highlands much more militarized than the Lowlands. 29 The Press Act also 
dragooned Highlanders into the army. In April 1756, with the act about to 
go into effect, the commissioners of supply and justices of the peace in the 
County of Inverness decided to canvas the gentlemen of the various districts 
to identify men to draw up a list of "fitt and proper" men to press into the 
North American service. A return of troops in the 42nd Regiment present 
at Schenectady, New York, the next year indicates that Highland justices 
had in some instances to resort to the last method, as thirty-five men were 
recorded as serving the six-year term of pressed men. 30 

To understand Scottish recruiting, however, it must be situated in its 
socioeconomic environment. The country's population was essentially 
stagnant, growing at just 0.6 per cent in 1750-1800 (half of England's rate), 
meaning that recruitment constituted a net loss demographically. 31 At the 

27 See Plank, Rebellion and Savagery, p. 12; Youngson, After the Forty-Five, pp. 26-27; Machines, 
"Scottish Gaeldom", p. 71. 

28 Mackillop, "More Fruitful than the Soil", pp. 77-83; quotation from Hints Towards a Plan for 
Managing the Forfeited Estates, cited on pp. 89-90. 

29 Middleton, "The Recruitment of the British Army", pp. 226-231, 234, 237; Mackillop, "More 
Fruitful than the Soil", pp. 46-50, 229; Middleton, "A Reinforcement for North America". 

30 Commissioners of Supply and Justices of the Peace, Extract minutes, 5, 6 April 1756, 
LO1017/22; Francis Grant, List of the men of the 42nd Regiment who have Inlisted for a Term of 
Years according to the Press Act, 16 April 1757, LO4214/74. 

31 Houston, "The Demographic Regime", pp. 12-13, 20-21. 



time of recruitment for the Seven Years War, Scotland as a whole possessed 
a three-tiered rural social structure of landlords, tenants, and landless 
laborers. Land constituted the key to subsistence in what was still es- 
sentially a peasant society with greater similarities to mainland Europe 
than to England. 32 In the rural Lowlands, the social structure rested on 
ferm-touns, which ranged from small units of twenty families or fewer to 
some the size of villages. Usually tenants rented the lands in the touns by 
leasehold from an absent landlord, with a smattering of owner-occupiers 
evident in some areas. A toun could be held by one tenant or by several with 
holdings of varying sizes, larger in the south-east, whereas in the north-east 
smallholdings proved more common. Cottars (families that held small plots 
of land by subtenure) mostly worked the land, owing duties to the tenant or 
landowner. Servants engaged for six months to a year in full-time service, 
who often came from cottar families and could eventually set themselves 
up as such, also performed agricultural labor. Changes in the eighteenth 
century favored tenants and owner-occupiers, with their hold on the land 
being restrained only by terms of lease, and ordinary people's access to the 
land became limited. The number of touns held by a single tenant grew in 
number. They consolidated their holdings and enclosed lands to convert 
to pasture for their sole use. This erosion of common rights deprived cot- 
tars and subtenants of land, converting them to employees of landlords or 
tenants. Still smallholdings persisted everywhere, and in some areas so did 
the old heterogeneous holding, common rights pattern. In the northeast 
counties of Banff, Kincardine, and Aberdeen, the rise of crofting meant that 
people farmed small strips of land but also worked part-time for farmers 
through economic need. Crofters came to replace cottars. 33 

The dwindling availability of land meant people often combined farming of 
smallholdings with wages earned from labor on farms, as craftsmen, or in the 
building trade. Rural underemployment became common especially outside 
the peak farm work seasons, and this pushed people into paid employment, 
bringing them into competition with tradespeople, especially in cloth manu- 
facture. Weavers often experienced slack periods and had to find employment 
elsewhere. Outside towns little full-time manufacturing work existed, except 
in the mining and salt industries. The linen industry, which doubled produc- 
tion about every twenty to twenty-five years between 1730 and 1800, depended 
on finding cheap, exploitable labor, and developed a putting-out model of 
production whereby the raw materials were sent out to rural workers for 

32 Devine, "Introduction", p. 2. 

33 Gray, "The Social Impact of Agrarian Change in the Rural Lowlands", pp. 53-61. 



spinning. In the 1730S-1740S, spinning increasingly encroached on the north 
and the Highlands. The craft career path broke down and journeymen became 
lifelong wageworkers. Journeymen's societies emerge by the early eighteenth 
century and, later, permanent organizations arose among such trades as tailors 
and shoemakers. Rising prices caused the most disputes, leading to calls for 
higher wages, but typically the state backed the capitalist. 34 

In the Highlands the bale or clachan, the traditional township and basis 
of settlement and management, functioned essentially as a communalis- 
tic, multi-tenanted farm managed by tacksmen, who leased lands from 
clan leaders and sub-leased portions to clan members. From the 1730s, 
landowners, who viewed traditional clan practices as an impediment to 
improvement, began eliminating the bale along with tacksmen in the move 
to single-tenant farms and crofting communities of individual smallhold- 
ings and common pasture. The defeat at Culloden freed clan leaders to 
pursue progress and break down the communalistic ethos of the clans, 
in the process subordinating Scottish Gaeldom to the market and British 
imperialism. 35 Military recruitment played an important role in the process. 
For the Highland elite, recruiting regiments constituted the main means 
of "colonizing" the resources of the British fiscal-military state. Recruiting 
targeted those on the margins of the Highland economy, not established 
tenants or proven rent-payers. Faced with rising recruitment bounties, 
landlords sought to transfer the costs of recruiting to their main tenants by 
asking them to fill quotas or pay for substitutes. These men resisted because 
recruitment drained the very manpower they required to commercialize 
their holdings, drove up wages, and made them maintain subtenants and 
cottars on the land to satisfy landlord levies rather than to evict them 
and improve the land. 36 Also, the need for recruits meant that those at 
the bottom of Highland society wielded some control over the terms of 
enlistment. Landlords faced with scarcity felt compelled to offer favorable 
terms to recruits. Enlistment bounties exceeded the amount allowed by 
the government in the late 1750s. Those without sufficient liquid capital 
had to grant land in place of monetary bounties, either securing existing 
landholdings or promising grants of new land upon returning home from 
service. In return for providing military recruits, subtenants demanded to 

34 Whatley, "The Experience of Work", pp. 228-230, 233-234; Fraser, "Patterns of Protest", p. 278. 

35 Dodgshon, "West Highland and Hebridean Settlement Prior to Crofting and the Clearances"; 
Macinnes, "Scottish Gaeldom", pp. 70-72, 75-76. 

36 Mackillop, "More Fruitful than the Soil", pp. 84-88, 101, 103, 107-109, 132-133, 139-140, 144, 
155-156, 169-173- 



hold land directly from the landlord, and thus circumvented tacksmen. Thus 
recruitment, in part a matter of landlord coercion, also proved a means of 
social advancement for the subtenantry. 37 Recruiting raised the expecta- 
tions of landless and subtenant groups, and these were met by subdivision 
of the land. Mackillop concludes that "one of recruitment's most important 
social effects lay in the fact that it undermined the hierarchical structure 
of Highland farms and expedited the emergence of crofting". 38 Good in 
the short term in that it expanded access to land by the lowest ranks of 
highland society, in the long term, however, it led directly to the Highland 
Clearances in the postwar era. 

The Jacobite revolt of 1745-1746 provided the British fiscal-military state 
the wedge with which to pry open the Highlands for economic improvement. 
Military recruitment played a key role in that improvement, skimming off 
former rebels and the common people uprooted by the commercialization 
of the Highland economy. While lairds and recruits alike exploited the 
capital generated by the military leviathan, in the end the army's needs 
transformed the region and the clearances followed in its train. At the same 
time, Scots came to play a central role in the British Army and Highlanders 
crafted a unique military persona, with the tartan becoming as much a 
symbol of British militarism as the red coat. 39 

Ireland, island garrison 

Ireland's relation to the fiscal-military state differed from that of Scotland in 
that it did not serve primarily as a military plantation that produced troops 
for Britain's overseas military enterprise. The army officially did not recruit 
Irish Catholics and only enlisted Irish Protestants during wartime, although 
significant numbers of Irish did enter the army. The island functioned first 
and foremost as a military depot and source of funds to support British 
militarism. By stationing 12,000 soldiers there in times of peace, amounting 
to more than one-third of the peacetime army, England could maintain 
a large force without immediately threatening the homeland but easily 
within reach in times of need. 40 Moreover, by placing these regiments on 

37 Ibid., pp. 84-88, 107-108, 157-160. 

38 Ibid., pp. 129, 162-163, 166. 

39 Allan Macinnes estimates the army recruited 48,000 men from the Highlands from the 
beginning of the Seven Years' War to the end of the Napoleonic Wars: "Scottish Gaeldom", p. 83. 

40 Houlding, Fit for Service, p. 45. 



the Irish establishment paid for by taxation set by Ireland's Parliament, 
Britain colonized its resources and expropriated its wealth. Finally given 
the troubled history between the English and Irish, garrisoning 12,000 
troops on the island made them a de facto occupying force, suppressing Irish 
Catholics, and elevating Irish Protestants, but keeping both subordinate to 
Britain. Ireland's unique role resulted from its particular history of coloniza- 
tion by, rebellion against, and religious strife with England. 

England viewed Ireland, unlike Scotland or Wales, as a colony. More so than 
other British colonies, however, its history involved successive invasions and 
military conquest. First came the wave of Anglo-Norman invaders, followed 
by "New English" colonizers of Ireland in the period 1560-1660. The rebellion 
of 1641 led to the Cromwellian reconquest and the imposition of a Protestant 
ascendancy. The English Revolution and the defeat of James II and VII by 
William of Orange's Protestant armies handed control of provincial power 
and land to the Anglo-Irish ratified in the Treaty of Limerick of 1692, and 
there soon followed a series of penal laws restricting the political, economic, 
and social rights of Catholics. 41 Unlike Scotland, however, Ireland retained 
its parliament, although first Catholics and then Presbyterians would lose 
the franchise, making it an expression of Anglo-Irish will. This became the 
body nominally overseeing the Irish establishment of the British Army. 

The English Disbanding Act of 1699 set the Irish establishment at 12,000, 
where it remained until 1769 (although at given times a number of regiments 
could be on duty elsewhere in the empire). During peacetime, desertion, 
death, and the old and infirm serving in the ranks vitiated its nominal 
strength, reducing the number of effective soldiers by as much as a quarter. 
Conversely, during wartime, the establishment expanded, for example, 
reaching 17,000 for a period in 1756-1757 and 24,000 from 1761 to the peace 
in 1763. 42 As it had before the Treaty of Limerick, the Irish Parliament 
dominated by the Anglo-Irish paid for the army from its revenues, yet had 
no control over the number of troops or the expense, as a royal proclamation 
applied the act to Ireland. Here nakedly appears Ireland's colonial status 
in military matters. The Lord Lieutenant, the king's civil representative in 
Ireland, also acted as a military governor, but exerted limited control over 
this force. The regiments remained subject to the British Mutiny Act, and 
their primary functions entailed the defense of England and the provision 

41 James, Ireland in the Empire 7688-7770, pp. 22-25, 5 2 . 234-236, 289-291; Linebaugh and Rediker, 
The Many-Headed Hydra, p. 57; Canny, "Identity Formation in Ireland", pp. 159-160; Pittock, 
Inventing and Resisting Britain, p. 49; Connolly, Divided Kingdom, pp. 197-203. 

42 Houlding, Fit for Service, p. 24. 



of reserve military forces for deployment elsewhere at the expense of the 
Irish. Only in the 1740s did Britain place regiments sent abroad from Ireland 
on the English establishment and assume their expense. The Anglo-Irish 
derived patronage opportunities from it, such as the awarding of commis- 
sions and contracts for supplies. Unlike the Scottish example, though, the 
Anglo-Irish did not directly tap the resources of the British fiscal-military 
state, instead colonizing the Irish in general through additional taxes. 43 
The British government profited substantially, but from the perspective 
of many Irish, however, the army must have seemed like a giant parasite. 

The "Irish" army was Irish in name only. In 1701, Britain proscribed Catho- 
lics from serving in the army. Catholics did join the army unofficially, but 
they had to abjure their faith when enlisting. 44 Many Irish Catholics, in fact, 
demonstrated their true allegiance by enlisting with Britain's enemies. 45 
Britain also normally rejected Irish Protestants from army service: first 
to ensure Catholics did not enter the army by claiming to be Protestant; 
and, secondly, as Presbyterians comprised two-thirds of Irish Protestants, 
to keep out suspected dissenters. During wartime, however, manpower 
needs overrode these concerns and the army recruited Irish Protestants. 46 
The Irish army, then, amounted to a force of 12,000 English and Scottish 
troops garrisoned in Ireland and paid for by the Irish through taxation set 
by the Irish Parliament, which exerted minimal control over the army. Some 
historians have argued that the combination of penal laws and a standing 
army did not make Ireland a police state, 47 but the presence of this many 
soldiers makes it hard not to view the army as an occupying force. 

Ireland's economy in the eighteenth century experienced similar 
changes to those in Scotland and England, with the expansion of com- 
mercial agriculture, the development of new manufacturing activities, 
and the reorganization of traditional forms of craft production producing 
surplus labor that elsewhere armies would partially absorb. Yet political and 
religious reasons prohibited paid military labor as an option for many set 

43 Guy, "The Irish Military Establishment", pp. 212-214, 216-217; Childs, "The Restoration of the 
Army", p. 51; Connolly, Divided Kingdom, pp. 322-323; Mackillop, "More Fruitful than the Soil", 
pp. 23-24; James, Ireland in the Empire, pp. 174-178, 181-182, 210-211. 

44 James, Ireland in the Empire, pp. 264-265; Guy, "The Irish Military Establishment", pp. 217, 229. 

45 Pittock, Inventing and Resisting Britain, pp. 49-50; Murtagh, "Irish Soldiers Abroad"; Con- 
nolly, Divided Kingdom, pp. 89-90, 286-290, 375-376. 

46 Guy, "The Irish Military Establishment", pp. 2vj-2ig;]ames, Ireland in the Empire, pp. 178-180; 
Mackillop, "More Fruitful than the Soil", pp. 23-24; Houlding, Fit for Service, p. 46. 

47 James, Ireland in the Empire, pp. 289-291; Guy, "The Irish Military Establishment", p. 219; 
Houlding, Fit for Service, pp. 46-47. 



free from the soil and trades. A quick look at Irish economic development 
identifies the factors that lay behind enlistment when war opened the door 
to military service for many A landed aristocracy urban and rural middle 
classes, and lower classes of peasants and laborers comprised the Irish social 
structure. By 1700, most landlords came from the Anglican Anglo-Irish, as 
the penal laws restricted Catholics landholding in a number of ways, while 
the middle class was more heterogeneous. 48 Catholics formed the majority 
of the lower classes, particularly those that tilled the soil, and dominated 
the countryside. Peasant society had been organized communally into a 
clachan, a pattern similar to that in Scotland. A group of families leased 
the land collectively with each getting equal access to land for tillage and 
pasture in a system called rundale. From the seventeenth century, this 
arrangement came under increasing pressure from ongoing broad shifts 
in land management wrought by those who wished to farm the land for 
commercial purposes, most notably by enclosing tilled land for pasturage 
of sheep and later livestock. The commercial pressures began the breakup 
of the peasantry. Some proved able to transform into small tenants with 
enough land and livestock to farm on their own and pay cash rent. The 
majority became laborers, most of whom held only small pieces of land they 
rented with labor, while the rest sold their labor to pay cash rent for small 
plots in the conacre system. "In both cases, however", according to Sean 
Connolly, "their true position was of a rural proletariat exchanging their 
labour for the means of subsistence." 49 The relationship between landlord 
and tenant also altered as a result of the commercialization of land use. 
Landowners tended to lease their lands in blocks to middlemen who then 
rented the lands to peasants for a profit, often squeezing too much out 
of those who worked the land, rendering them vulnerable to even minor 
problems affecting the Irish economy. 50 

Ireland experienced repeated crises of subsistence with famines occur- 
ring in 1720-1721 and 1728-1729, but most devastatingly in 1740-1741, which 
caused mortality comparable to the Great Famine of the 1840s. The harvest 
failure of 1756-1757 must also have played a role in the recruitment of the 
army. 51 Commentators at the time have pointed to the shift from tillage 

48 James, Ireland in the Empire, pp. 219-225. 

49 Connolly, Divided Kingdom, pp. 349, 350, 358, 359, 361-362 ("rural proletariat"), 358-359; 
Miller, Emigrants and Exiles, pp. 27-28. 

50 Connolly again disputes this contention, arguing that the transition had been ongoing 
for some time and that in reality most of Ireland was better suited to pasturage. See Connolly, 
Divided Kingdom, pp. 347-348, 350-351. 

51 Ibid., pp. 344-346, 359; Linebaugh and Rediker, The Many-Headed Hydra, p. 187. 



to pasturage for commercial purposes as a root cause of Irish poverty 
and social dislocation. 52 Landlords enhanced productivity in large part 
by weakening the bond between peasants and the soil: by enclosing and 
consolidating the land; appointing middlemen tenants to further exploit 
smallholders; shortening leases to an annual basis; and charging excessive 
or "rack" rents, among other tactics. The net effect was to force people onto 
ever-smaller pieces of land for cultivation with their only recourse to find 
paid employment of a temporary or permanent nature. This cottier class 
grew over the century. Some lost all ties to the land and joined a swelling 
proletariat that sought work where it could be found, on large farms, in 
urban centres, or across the Irish Sea, and, indeed, in the military of one 
power or another. 53 Peasants suffered under this yoke for the most part, 
but periodically rose up against landlords and improvers using clandestine 
collective violence to seek to roll back change, most notably in the Houghers 
campaign of agrarian terror of 1711-1712 and the Whiteboys movement that 
emerged in 1761. 54 

Ireland's small but developing manufacturing sector provided a main 
source of employment for the displaced agrarian classes as well as crafts- 
men. Many of Ireland's products came from agriculture. Improved farms 
produced beef, butter, grain, and (indirectly) beer and flour for urban 
consumption and, more importantly, for the international provision trade 
(including supplying the army). The manufacturing sector developed 
somewhat more slowly, and British trade restrictions have often received 
the blame, especially the Woolens Act of 1699, which prohibited the export 
of wool and woolen cloth from anywhere but England. This situation un- 
doubtedly harmed the weaving trade, and protests against the act occurred 
periodically. Still, wool production for the domestic market remained an 
important industry. Much of the weaving into cloth took place rurally on 
the putting-out model, with women spinning yarn in their households. 
Production soared with the abandonment of the English import duty in 
1739. 55 

Linen manufacture concentrated in Ulster constituted the leading sector 
in the economy. Irish linen production took off with the immigration of 

52 Connolly, Religion, Law, and Power, pp. 49-50. 

53 James, Ireland in the Empire, p. 217; Miller, Emigrants and Exiles, pp. 27-28, 34, 217-218; 
Beames, Peasants and Power, pp. 6-13; Mokyr, Why Ireland Starved, pp. 144-147. 

54 Connolly, Religion, Law, and Power, pp. 52, 201, 219, "The Houghers", Divided Kingdom, 
pp. 300-302; Smyth, The Men of No Property, pp. 33-35, 44; Beames, Peasants and Power, p. 155. 

55 Connolly, Religion, Law, and Power, pp. 50-52, Divided Kingdom, p. 346;James, Ireland in the 
Empire, pp. 201-203. 



English and Scots, and by the 1670s large-scale commercial production was 
already evident. In 1696, England removed import duty on Irish linen and in 
1705 allowed direct export to other colonies. Economic growth transformed 
northeastern Ireland. Ulster's eastern counties came to depend on linen 
manufacture to the degree that they became net importers of food. Petty 
producers working in households carried on weaving using their own 
yarn or that purchased on the market, sometimes employing journeymen 
weavers. The spinning of yarn and weaving of coarse linen spread west 
and south of Ulster, while elsewhere farmers raised livestock and crops 
to support industrial towns. The Ulster economy became overdependent 
on linen and subject to shock when trade worsened, more so in the east 
where agriculture had largely been abandoned. 56 When the economy took a 
downturn in Ulster, some chose to cross the Atlantic to escape, as occurred 
in 1718-1729 when thousands left as a result of poor harvests, famine, rising 
tithes, and problems within the linen trade. 57 The Irish economy prospered 
in the 1730s as the linen trade grew. Conacre continued spreading, with land 
subdivided to provide small lots for weavers' subsistence needs. This system 
also exposed them to any agricultural disruption as happened in 1740, 
when crop failure caused food prices and rents to rise, famine set in, and 
the linen trade declined. This crisis prompted another wave of migration, 
many indenturing themselves to get to the colonies. 58 As the linen industry 
matured, more weavers were unable to set themselves up as independent 
producers. All those people who depended on the industry, the women 
who spun the linen and farmers who grew food to feed the linen workers, 
also suffered when trade did. Desperation led some to join the Oakboys or 
Hearts of Oak, formed in 1763 to protest economic conditions. 59 

Irish economic development in the eighteenth century had a negative im- 
pact on many. While national wealth and consumption grew substantially 
from 1700 to 1760, it did so for those already better off. The majority lived a 
subsistence existence and poverty pervaded society. Cottiers found them- 
selves more vulnerable to their landlords, while the urban poor crowded 
into slums in the major cities. 60 The spread of commercial agriculture and 
manufacturing set many adrift. This proved particularly the case at times 

56 Connolly, Religion, Law, and Power, pp. 51-52, Divided Kingdom, pp. 351-352, 354-356; Griffin, 
The People with No Name, pp. 25-32. 

57 Griffin, The People with No Name, pp. 65-79, 88-89, 90-94, 97. 

58 Ibid., pp. 159-160. 

59 Connolly, Divided Kingdom, pp. 302-303. 

60 James opined that, on the whole, conditions for the Irish poor were worse than in England: 
James, Ireland in the Empire, pp. 212, 222-224. 



of economic dislocation, such as the years 1756-1757 when bad harvests and 
high prices prevailed, coincidentally the time when recruitment for the 
Seven Years War first spiked. 61 

The Seven Years War affected the army in Ireland early on. The two 
regiments sent to North America with General Edward Braddock in 1755, 
the 44th and 48th, had come from the Irish establishment at a peacetime 
strength of 310 rank-and-file. Drafting 420 men from regiments in Britain 
and Ireland brought each of the two units to 520 before they left Cork. 62 Such 
drafting became the norm throughout the war whenever the government 
ordered reinforcements for North America; whether for existing regiments 
rotated across the Atlantic or newly raised units, drafts from those forces 
remaining behind brought them up to strength. 63 The escalating demand 
for fighting men prompted the dispatch of ever more troops from the Irish 
establishment: in September 1756, the 22nd Regiment and drafts from the 
twelve Irish battalions; and in 1757 the 17th, 27th, 28th, 43rd, and 46th 
Regiments, as well as further drafts. 64 In turn, the remaining units in 
Ireland found it necessary to recruit so as to return to strength. To meet 
these additional manpower demands, Whitehall decided to lift the ban on 
enlisting Irish Protestants, seemingly as early as 1756. In April of that year, a 
lieutenant of the Royal American Regiment complained that recruiting for 
the new unit in Ireland had been very difficult as twenty-four companies 
were to be raised for service and 1,600 men had already been enlisted, 
making for thin pickings. And, in August, the Earl of Halifax reported that 
1,100 men had been raised in Ireland to fill up the regiments in America. 65 
The large number of Irish in the American army by the summer of 1757 
attests to the rapid recruitment of Protestants in the short time since the 
prohibition had been lifted. The regiments sent from the Irish establishment 
in 1756-1757 for which returns survive exhibited the highest proportion of 
Irish soldiers: the 17th (39.8 per cent), 22nd (41.4 per cent), 27th (45.8 per 
cent), and 28th (56.3 per cent). The Irish also accounted for 33.9 per cent of 

61 Connolly, Religion, Law, and Power, p. 137. 

62 T[homas] Robinson [1st Baron Grantham], Circular to the Governors in North America, 26 
Oct. 1754, LO503/11 and T. Robinson to Gov. Shirley and Sir Wm. Pepperell, 26 Oct. 1754, LO504/11; 
Maj. Gens. Abercromby and Webb to Loudoun, [26 Oct. 1756], 5832/47. 

63 On drafting, see, e.g., Henry Fox to Gov. Lawrence, 14 Aug. 1756, LO1486/34. On desertion, 
see, e.g., Barrington to Loudoun, 15 June 1757, LO3837/85; D. McDonald, A Return of the Men 
left by the 62d. Regmt. in Ireland, 19 Dec. 1757, LO5042 no. 1/111]; D. McDonald, A Return of the 
number of men found in Ireland belonging to the 62d. Regmt., 18 Dec. 1757, LO5042 no. 5/111. 

64 Brumwell, Redcoats, pp. 19-20. 

65 George Brereton [to Loudoun], 8 April 1756, LO1026/23; Dunk [George Montagu, 2nd Earl 
of] Halifax, 13 Aug. 1756, LO1478/33; Hiasinte de Bonneville, 28 March 1757, LO3192/70. 



the four companies of the New York Independent Regiment, a clear indica- 
tion of the recruiting of Irish natives in the American colonies. 66 

Irish Protestants (and clandestine Catholics), dammed up as a source 
of military labor by imperial policy much of the time, flowed fairly evenly 
throughout the army once the war-induced need for men opened the sluice 
gates. The Irish did not attain the same prominent profile in the army as 
did Highlanders. The contingent basis of their enlistment made them seem 
more a last resort, while the bogeyman of Catholicism complicated their 
relation to the British. Nonetheless, in the Seven Years War, they formed 
a significant component of the army, and their experience with improv- 
ers, landlords, and bosses no doubt colored their relationships within the 

German military migrants 

The scale of conflict in the Seven Years War strained manpower resources to 
such a point that Britain had to look beyond its dominions for war workers. 
Across the English Channel it found what it needed in two forms: foreign 
princes willing to hire out their military forces; and individuals who could 
be recruited directed into the British Army. Although not part of the British 
Empire, German peoples of Europe did play an important role during the 
Seven Years War, both on the continent where Prussia proved an essential 
ally and where mercenary units from other states fought in the British 
interest, and as recruits to the regular British Army dispatched to the 
American theatre. Ultimately, Britain decided to fight the war in North 
America with its own army and to fight in Europe primarily by proxy. In 
January of 1756 Britain signed the Convention of Westminster with Prussia 
to prevent that state from siding with France. Frederick the Great waged 
total war, exploiting resources and civilians to the full, and his policies had 
a significant impact on western and northern Germany, which had been 
largely conflict-free since 1714. Not only did Prussia forcibly harness people 
to the war machine but also the ferocity of continental conflict uprooted 
many, making them ripe pickings for recruiters from various armies. Fred- 
erick's military support came at a price for Britain, which promised in 1758 
to provide Prussia with £670,000 annually to subsidize its war effort. At the 

66 13 July 1757, LO2533 no. 4/90; [July 1757], LO2529 no. 1/90; 13 July 1757, LO4012 no. 1/90; i4july 
1757, LO1944 no. 5/90; 15 July 1757, LO6616/88. 



same time, Britain assumed the cost of the entire Hanoverian army, which 
would amount to £1.2 million per year. 67 

Britain also hired the services of mercenary soldiers. With the decline 
of independent military enterprisers, mercenary captains who hired their 
companies to fight for other, larger states found it difficult to raise armies 
of a sufficient size from their own territories. They could recruit in foreign 
domains, or could contract units from another army to support their own. 
Increasingly, they hired a specific number of troops raised and maintained 
by a foreign power, particularly smaller states in the Holy Roman Empire, 
in return for the payment of a subsidy. Subsidizing forces from abroad 
tended to be faster and simpler than raising new regiments at home. Subsidy 
agreements also proved more flexible, as troops could be hired for short 
periods and dispensed with when not needed. Political considerations also 
played a part, as subsidy agreements served as a form of political alliance 
with mutual responsibilities stipulated. 68 Since the Glorious Revolution, the 
British had depended on a largely volunteer army, but could do this only 
by extensively utilizing foreign soldiers. Peter Taylor argued that the fear 
of a standing army led the English to "subcontracting the defense of their 
liberties and privileges to Germans, Native Americans, and Africans." The 
"tributary overlords of German territorial states" secured much English 
business in supplying troops from within Europe, pushing most independ- 
ent military contractors out of the market. They could meet this demand 
for soldiers for hire as their subjects legally owed them military service, 
but in doing so they had to alter the political economies of their states. 69 
Many (including William Pitt) thought at the time the Hanoverian regime 
of Britain in fact cared more about their status as Protectors of Hanover 
than as defenders of the British realm, and the outbreak of hostilities with 
France in the colonies in 1754 prompted Britain again to contract with 
German territories - Hesse-Cassel, Ansbach, and Wiirzburg - to hold men in 
reserve to help protect Hanover. Hanover itself received an annual subsidy 
of £50,000 to expand its army by 8,000 men. During the invasion scare 
of 1756, Britain paid for twelve Hanoverian battalions and eight Hessian 
battalions to be stationed in the south of England. 70 

67 Wilson, German Armies, pp. 263, 275, 277-278; Anderson, A People's Army, pp. 298-299. 

68 Childs, Armies and Warfare in Europe, pp. 85-86. 

69 Taylor, Indentured to Liberty, pp. 9, 11, 21. 

70 Anderson, Crucible of War, p. 127; Wilson, German Armies, p. 263; Houlding, Fit for Service, 
p. 323, n. 1. 



The "military-subsidy relationship" England had with Hesse-Cassel sheds 
light on the phenomenon. Subsidy treaties usually took the form of mutual 
defense pacts, with arrangements for payments made per man supplied, 
a subsidy to the state for the duration of the war, and pay for the soldiers. 
The soldier's food would be paid for out of his "subsistence" (or pay). The 
British received soldiers who were trained and equipped in return. During 
the Seven Years War, Britain contracted with Hesse-Cassel, a part of the 
Holy Roman Empire, for 12,000 men in 1755, almost 19,000 in 1757, 12,000 
two years later, and more than 15,000 in 1760. From 1751 to 1760, British 
subsidies accounted for 40 per cent of all state revenue for Hesse-Cassel. The 
monies allowed for the maintenance of a standing army of 14,000 within 
the landgravial domain, equivalent to 1 soldier per 19 Hessian civilians, as 
opposed to a ratio of 1 to 36 in both England and Prussia. 71 

The Hessian state raised subsidy armies by developing a military tax, 
the Kontribution, for the training, equipping, and payment of troops, 
but the increased military expectations posed ideological problems for 
the Landgraves. To circumvent the novelty and scale of demands, they 
targeted "marginal" people - the masterless, indolent, those deemed the 
most expendable. 72 The state in the 1740s became increasingly intrusive of 
the household and defined marginality more loosely, taking servants, day 
laborers, and apprentices when it could not be demonstrated that their labor 
was essential to the local agricultural economy. Just before the Seven Years 
War, the Landgrave promised not to force people into service if they could 
not be spared without harming the household. But in 1762, the state removed 
the distinction between the militia and subsidy army, and all suitable males 
were expected to serve if called. This penetrated the peasant household 
more deeply, taking away from the head of household decisions central to 
its economy and familial relations. 73 The nature of the state, society, and 
economy of Hesse-Cassel became attached to the dictates of the British 
fiscal-military state, albeit more indirectly than within Great Britain and 
its colonies. From London, Hessians were viewed as so much military labor; 
from Hesse-Cassel, with the fortunes of the state resting on the sale of its 
population as soldiers, the people could not but take on a military cast. 

The British Army also attempted directly to exploit the continental 
market in military labor. Warfare had wracked much of Europe through- 
out the seventeenth century and into the eighteenth, causing social and 

71 Taylor, Indentured to Liberty, pp. 1, 21-25, 36-37. 

72 Ibid., pp. 49-51. 

73 Ibid., pp. 68-70. 



economic dislocation. In some areas, as Aaron Fogelman's study of German 
immigration in the period reveals, the devastation proved so severe that 
traditional cultural practices had been subverted, opening the door for the 
emergence of new forms of social relations and economic production, with 
expansive states, profit-minded nobles, and commercially oriented peasants 
looking toward the market. For many pushed to the margins, emigration 
became an increasingly attractive option, particularly in southwestern 
Germany and parts of Switzerland. War in the seventeenth century had 
severely disturbed society in the region through depopulation, and sig- 
nificant change followed in its wake during the decades of peace. States 
grew in size and became more intrusive in village life. In agriculture, a shift 
occurred from the three-field system of usage that included common land 
to more commercial agriculture. The depopulation caused by warfare broke 
down traditional social and economic practices but also eventually led to 
marked demographic growth and socioeconomic change. As land proved 
readily available, people began marrying earlier and setting up independ- 
ent households, farmed the land more intensively, and practiced partible 
inheritance. At the same time, both local nobles and the state sought to 
assert their control over their domains and enhance revenues. Peasants 
fought enclosure, attempts to alter inheritance patterns and restrain early 
marriage, and initiatives to push them into manufacturing, at times taking 
direct action. By the mid-eighteenth century, however, population growth 
peaked and landholdings were becoming too small to support a family. 
These processes led to a wave of emigration. 74 

The labor demands for the all-out North American offensive were such 
that the army turned to the continent to fill out the ranks. Britain's Hano- 
verian dynasty and Protestant faith made Germans an obvious source to 
tap. Thus, when in February 1756, the government decided to raise a new 
regiment from among the Germans and Swiss resident in America to be 
called the Royal Americans (the 62nd, later 60th, Regiment), seasoned non- 
commissioned officers (NCOs) and soldiers were to be enlisted in Holland, 
Germany, and Switzerland to complement these raw recruits. Recruiting 
orders did stipulate "none but healthy Steady Men being protestants, and as 
many as he can procure who have already been in the Service". The recruits 
should be between eighteen and thirty-five years old, ^2" or taller, and no 
Frenchmen were to be taken. To secure as many recruits as possible, the 
army allowed the colonel some money "for the passage of a small number 
of Women and Children, which he will be indispensably [sic] Obliged to 

74 Fogelman, Hopeful Journeys, pp. 6, 16, 18-28, 48-65. 



take for the Success of the Affair and the acquisition of proper Men". 75 The 
British in Frankfurt and Cologne found they were competing with recruit- 
ers from the imperial Prussian and Danish armies and were having some 
trouble meeting their requirements. The pickings proved so thin that one 
officer suggested getting men as indentured servants for America and then 
converting them to soldiers, presumably against their will. 76 But in April, 
one recruiter reported that he expected to raise 100 good men in Germany. 
Later in August, he noted that, while the recruits seemed fairly good, he had 
hoped for more experienced soldiers, or tradesmen, but they were recruiting 
late in the season. An officer in New York upon reviewing these German 
recruits for the Royal Americans, complained that the majority were "Raw 
men", while he also discovered "12 strange little Lads they Call Miners" and 
ten boys for drummers. 77 

A glimpse into the nature of the German influx into the army can be 
found in one particular recruiting document of troops raised in Europe for 
service in the Royal Americans by Herbert, Baron de Munster. 78 The data 
reveals that 94 of the 152 men recruited as privates and noncommissioned 
officers (61.8 per cent) reported having prior occupations, each with some 
specific skill ranging from gardener to peruke-maker but with only brewers, 
miners, and tailors reaching double figures. No one listed farmer or laborer, 
although it is safe to assume that some of the fifty-eight individuals who 
returned no occupation had performed manual labor or came from family 
farms. Recruits averaged twenty-four years of age, typical for the army as a 
whole, and it is likely that some had not yet set up independent households. 
Most appear to have come from German principalities, with Switzerland 
at twelve recruits the next most likely place of nativity, but others hailed 
from as far afield as Scotland (two NCOs), Poland, and Bohemia. Clusters of 
recruits came from individual places, as well: four from Basel, Switzerland; 
ten from Darmstadt in Hesse; ten from Frankfurt in Hesse; five from Frein- 
sheim in the Palatinate; and nine listing Saxony as their birthplace. These 
recruits came from mixed occupational backgrounds, but one instance 

75 Plan for recruiting in Germany [Feb. 1756], LO2576/19. The army also enlisted German 
Protestants from the prisoners of war of the French army held at Portsmouth. See Earl Loud- 
oun, Memorandum Books, HM 1717, vol. 10, 11 March 1756, Manuscript Department, Henry E. 
Huntington Library, San Marino, California. 

76 Joseph Yorke to Maj. Gen. Napier, 23 March 1756, LO959/21. 

77 James Prevost to [Loudoun], 7 April 1756, LO1024/23; Prevost [to Loudoun], 14 Aug. 1756, 
LOi4gi/34;John Young [to Loudoun], 2 Sept. 1756, LO1681/38. 

78 List of Recruits under Command of Herbert, Baron de Munster . . . arrived the 27th of August 
at New York, 1756, LO1607/37. 



occurs of people of a particular occupation from the same town enlisting. 
Thirteen miners signed up from Clausdal (Clausthal) in Saxony in the Harz 
Mountains, a town that since the sixteenth century had been associated 
with the iron-mining industry promoted by the dukes of Brunswick. It is 
not clear what prompted this exodus from mining in Clausdal, but these 
individuals likely were the "12 strange little Lads they Call Miners" the Royal 
American officer referred to upon their arrival in New York. 

The regimental returns from 1757 showed 607 foreigners enlisted in 
Europe with the army in America, or 4.3 per cent of the whole. The Royal 
Americans had also been active in recruiting foreigners in America. The 
returns show 803 such recruits in 1757, but it is not clear whether this figure 
included Scots and Irish recruited in the colonies as well as Germans, al- 
though the army sent German-speaking recruiting officers to Pennsylvania 
and posted recruiting announcements in "Dutch". 79 A clearer example of the 
German presence as a whole lies in the dispersion of foreigners throughout 
the regiments. Seven of seventeen units returned no foreigners recruited in 
America, and 507 of the 803 men (63.1 per cent) had found homes in the four 
battalions of the Royal American Regiment, the one specifically raised from 
Germans in the colonies. 80 This regiment also had commissioned officers 
from Europe who spoke German. 

Wars past and rapid socioeconomic change yielded a harvest of men from 
German Europe to fight in the red coat of Britain in the Seven Years War. 
At the same time, the desire of some heads of small states to profit from 
bartering their military labor power to Britain condemned their people to 
wage war not of their own making. Britain's war industry proved blind to 
national or ethnic boundaries when it came to filling the ranks. 

America, reluctant recruiting ground 

Lord Loudoun, commander-in-chief of the American army, arrived in New 
York on 23 July 1756, and shortly thereafter began expressing his opinions of 
colonials. The general wrote in late August that colonials "have assumed to 
themselves what they Call Rights and Priviledges, Tottaly unknown in the 
Mother Country and are made use of, for no purpose, but to screen them, 
from giveing any aid, of any sort, for carrying on the Service". 81 Relations 

79 Samuel Kemble to Capt. William Skinner, 22 July 1756, LO1324/30. 

80 From an analysis of the returns utilized in Table 10.1. 

81 [Loudoun] to Cumberland, 29 Aug. 1756, LO1626/52. 



between the army and colonists soon had congealed into bad blood and they 
grew only more heated under Loudoun's vice-regal rule. Conflict erupted 
between the army and the colonies over issues of provisioning, quartering, 
and trade, but the mobilization of military manpower constituted a root 
source of disagreement. Raising an army in America brought the fiscal- 
military state across the Atlantic and to colonies that had little experience 
of the military revolution. Attempting to extract even a small proportion of 
the British Army from the colonies cut into the heart of local economies and 
made the British-American relationship all too frequently an adversarial 
one, as a Chester County, Pennsylvania, tavern-keeper made all too clear. 
On 12 December 1757, John Baldwin discovered Sergeant James Jobb of the 
New York Independent Companies attempting to enlist two young men 
and "Swore by God that he would beat the brains of any Scoundrell Soldier" 
recruiting in his inn. The sergeant "answer'd that he had Lord Loudoun's 
Orders for what he was about", to which Baldwin replied, "God Dam Lord 
Loudoun and his Army too, they are all Scoundrells and a burden upon the 
Country [.] What had he or his Army done Since their comeing but deprived 
the people of their hands [indentured servants and hired laborers], and if 
the Country Served them right they would kick them all out, like a parcel 
of Scoundrells, as they are, for they would never do the Country any good." 
Baldwin then attacked Jobb, wounding him, while his friends attacked 
the recruiting party, causing them to flee. Two days later, Baldwin and 
his companions disrupted Jobb and his party when recruiting in another 
tavern in Wilmington, Delaware, leading to a "Ryot" and the wounding of 
several soldiers. 8z Baldwin had laid his hands not only on one poor recruiting 
sergeant, but also on the pulse of the conflict over recruiting: who would 
control America's labor, army officers or colonial masters, and to what 
ends, state or private? 

The supply of military labor, both the provincial troops raised by the colo- 
nies and the regular troops recruited by the army in the colonies, provided 
a flashpoint for internecine conflict. Every year the commander-in-chief 
informed the colonial governors of the number of provincial troops he 
expected the colonies to raise for the campaign. The scale of mobiliza- 
tion demanded by the British eclipsed past war efforts and the economic 
wherewithal of the colonies, so foot-dragging naturally occurred. The often- 
strained relations between the executive and legislative branches of colonial 
governments, the assemblies' control of the purse strings, and in certain 
instances the prevalence of internal sectarian politics meant the number of 

82 Information of James Jobb, 14 Dec. 1757, LO5011/111. 



provincial troops actually fielded often fell well short of those requested. For 
example, the army requested 9,000 provincial troops for the 1756 campaign 
against Fort Crown Point and the provinces fielded 6,434 privates and NCOs. 
And General James Abercromby called for 20,000 provincial troops in total 
for the 1758 campaign and, although this was supported by Pitt's promise to 
reimburse the colonial governments, in April he reported that fewer than 
18,000 had mobilized. 83 

Constitutional concerns regarding the exercise of imperial powers only 
partly explain the colonies' reluctance to mobilize on the scale expected 
of them. The negative impact of extracting so many men from the civil 
economy worried officials, but so did the fact that broad mobilization caught 
up those of a status not normally expected to serve in the ranks. Governor 
Thomas Pownall explained Massachusetts's failure to meet Abercromby's 
request for provincial troops in 1758 in terms that revealed the same class 
politics operated in the colonies as did in Britain. 

I believe the real Truth is in attempting to raise 7,000 Men, we have 
overeached our Strength, the last thousand edges too near upon those 
who from their Situation & Circumstances thought it would not come 
to their Share [...] Laws will execute themselves while they extend 
only to a given rank of Men, but when they begin to entrench upon 
a Rank above that, you are sensible how much they labour and are 
obstructed. 84 

Class status played a key role in provincial mobilization throughout the war. 
The colonial assemblies forced men into service in their regiments, while 
the usual allowance of the provision of a substitute worked to ensure most 
draftees came from the laboring classes. 85 Colonial leaders thus did not 
scruple at forcing many of their own citizens into the provincial regiments, 

83 James Abercromby, Return of Provincial Forces of the Several Colonies raised for the reduc- 
tion of Crown Point, 26 June, 1756, LO1254/28; W[illiam] Shirley to Sir Thomas Robinson, 11 
Aug. 1755, LO622/13; Massachusetts General Court, Resolutions regarding Crown Point, 14 Jan. 
1756, LO759/17; Connecticut General Assembly, Resolution on the raising of men and money 
for operations in 1756, 21 Jan. 1756, LO763/17; [Abercromby] Circular Letter to the Governors 
of Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Virginia, 15 March 1758, no. 45, box 1, Abercromby Papers, 
Huntington Library [henceforth in form AB45/1]; [Abercromby] to Wm. Pitt, 28 April 1758, 

84 Pownall to Abercromby, 19 June 1758, AB366/8. 

85 Anderson, A People's Army, pp. 41-42; Cress, Citizens in Arms, pp. 5-7; Selesky, War and Society 
in Colonial Connecticut, pp. 155-162; Titus, The Old Dominion at War, pp. 59, 63-65, 79-80, 98-100, 
145-148; Ferling, "Soldiers for Virginia", p. 316. 



but balked when their own class confronted the possibility of having to 
serve in the front ranks. 

The colonies took advantage of their control over the raising and provi- 
sioning of provincial troops to limit the impact of mobilization; however, 
the army exercised direct authority in the recruiting of colonials to the 
regular forces, and this subject proved more contentious in the British- 
American relationship. Colonial resistance to British recruitment to the 
armed services, in particular impressment to the Royal Navy, had a long 
tradition. 86 In the Seven Years War, however, the enlistment of volunteers 
to the army provoked much controversy, superficially because of the tactics 
used in recruitment, but at root due to the impact mass mobilization had 
on the labor requirements of the colonial economies. 

Enlisting in America ran essentially the same as in Britain, even though 
the part of the Mutiny Act dealing with recruitment did not apply until 
1756. Recruiters were allowed levy money for each man, from which they 
had to provide necessaries, provisions, and transportation, as well as offer 
a bounty to lure men into the service. But commanding officers pressured 
them "to get the Recruits as cheap as you can". 87 Recruiting officers, in their 
rush to man the army, at times stooped to trickery, and this inflamed public 
opinion. James McDonell claimed that, while drinking with a friend, he 
fell in with a recruiting party from the New York Independent Companies, 
"as he was told next Morning, being that Night so Drunk that he doth not 
remember seeing a Red Coat in the house, and was greatly surprised in the 
Morning when the said Corporal told him he was enlisted". He deserted and 
received 200 lashes in punishment. 88 Other prospects could require greater 
subtlety. A Royal Americans recruiting party owed Joshua Boud money for 
food and lodging in his public house. He took a dollar, he thought in pay- 
ment, but the soldiers said he had enlisted and took him before a magistrate, 
who, despite his refusal to enlist, confined him without subsistence until 
he yielded. 89 

Sharp recruiting practices, acknowledged and tolerated to a degree in 
Britain, prompted more controversy in the colonies, and to an extent tainted 
all recruiting for the regular army. Horatio Sharpe, Maryland's governor, 

86 Most notably, a November 1747 impressment riot in Boston. See Rogers, Empire and Liberty, 
pp. 38-40; Brunsman, "The Knowles Atlantic Impressment Riots of the 1740s". 

87 Lt Col Gage's Recruiting Instructions, [3 Jan. 1758], LO5328/115. Levying recruits to the 
Royal American regiment required an estimated £5 per man in 1756. See Estimate of the several 
Articles of Expense on the American Service, [March 1756], LO6738/22. 

88 WO/71/65/361-366, 14 July 1757- 

89 Joshua Boude, Petition to Loudoun [1756], LO2456/57. 



informed Loudoun that recruiting parties for the 44th and 48th Regiments 
had attacked a vessel in a river and assaulted several persons, including a 
County High Sheriff in his own house. 90 Some citizens brought "Vexatious 
Suits" in the courts of law against recruiting officers for performing their 
duties. 91 Debts owed by putative recruits were invented or inflated and the 
men got themselves incarcerated to prevent their having to join the army. 92 
Colonists could turn to violence if obstruction did not work. A Philadelphia 
mob attacked recruiters in 1756, beating a sergeant to death, jailing the rest, 
and liberating the enlisted men. 93 Three riots took place in Wilmington, Dela- 
ware, in the fall of 1757, in which recruiters suffered beatings. Although the 
recruiting officer knew the identity of the mob leaders, he did not trust local 
authorities to prosecute. 94 "I have had my party out in the Country but they 
generally get Mob'd", Captain Mackay reported from Portsmouth, Maine, 
in December 1757; "one of them was beat in the Streets the other Evening 
by five Sailors, as yet I can make no discovery of the Authors, but I have a 
warrant out against one who has taken the liberty to threaten". 95 In Boston 
on February 3, 1758 a "Broil [...] between a Mob, & some of the Recruiting 
Parties" took place over NCOs allegedly committing "some imprudences that 
hurt ye Service. To see a Drunken Man lugg'd thro' ye Streets on a Souldiers 
back guarded by others wither it was or was not to carry him before a Justice 
to swear must certainly give a Strong impression of ye method of enlist- 
ing & certainly have an ill effect on an inflam'd Mobb", warned Governor 
Pownall of Massachusetts. However, Boston justices investigated the "Noise 

6 Tumult" and attributed it to "some mistaken apprehensions among some 
Young and undesigning Persons". 96 Questionable recruiting practices help 
explain some of the colonial opposition to the mobilization of manpower, 
but deeper social and economic factors also played a role. 

The struggle over labor most clearly evinced itself in the army's recruit- 
ment of indentured servants. From the military's perspective, the need 
for fighting men trumped all other concerns during wartime; to masters 

90 Horatio Sharpe to Loudoun, 18 May 1757, LO6353/80. 

91 In one instance, the 44th Regiment had to pay the attorney general of the Jersies £12. 16s. for 
defending recruiting officers from such suits: John Duncan, 44th Regiment of Foot on Account 
of Recruiting &c for the Year 1757, 24 June 1757, LO6600/86. 

92 Weekly Returns of the Recruiting Parties of Capt. Mackay, Lt Cottnam and Ens. Archbold for 
the 40th Regiment, Jan. 1758, LO6919/118; Samuel Mackay to Col Forbes, 6 Feb. 1758, LO5549/119. 

93 Pargellis, Lord Loudoun in North America, p. 107; Rogers, Empire and Liberty, p. 42. 

94 Capt. Charles Cruickshank to Loudoun, 14 Dec. 1757, LO5012/111. 

95 Samuel Mackay to Col Forbes, 16 Dec. 1757, LO5023/111. 

96 T. Pownall to Loudoun, 6, 13 Feb. 1758, LO5547/119, LO5569/120; Boston justices to Pownall, 

7 Feb. 1758, LO5550/119. 



who viewed their servants as commodities, enlistment constituted theft. 
Instructions for raising the regiments for the 1755 campaign indicated 
that indentured servants should not enlist without the consent of their 
masters, 97 but in the wake of Braddock's defeat the need to bring the regi- 
ments up to strength led Governor William Shirley of Massachusetts, acting 
commander-in-chief, to remove this exception. By February 1756, a crisis 
brewed. Horatio Sharpe warned that masters, "having a great part of their 
Property vested in Servants", were outraged by the practice, and expressed 
fears that "an Insurrection of the People is likely to ensue". 98 Corbin Lee, 
who managed an iron forge in Maryland worked by indentured servants, 
complained not only of the loss of the labor but also of the tactics practiced 
by recruiters. "It is not unusual with many of these recruiting Gentlemen 
when they meet with a person that will not be bullied out of his Property 
and tamely give up his Servant without any sort of Recompense immediately 
to deem him an Enemy to his Majesty's Service." He believed the actions 
of the recruiting officer to be "Illegal nay felonious; for they stole into our 
Plantations disguis'd like thieves in the dead of night made our Servants 
Drunk forced them to inlist and curried them off". 99 The Pennsylvania 
General Assembly advised the lieutenant governor that many masters had 
complained "a great Number of Bought Servants are lately inlisted by the 
Recruiting Officers now in this Province, and clandestinely or by open 
Force conveyed away", yet according to the law masters possessed "as true 
& as just a Property in the Servant bought as they had before in the Money 
with which he was purchas'd". 100 

Complaints soon turned to legal action. "The officers have been arrested 
for entertaining these Servants, Violences used by the Populace" in Penn- 
sylvania and Maryland "for recovering them from the Officers, and the 
Servants imprison'd for inlisting", lamented William Shirley. He looked to 
the king to establish a policy in an attempt to allay "the present disputes 
& Heart-burnings". Masters of two servants enlisted in New York sued the 
recruiting lieutenant of the 48th Regiment in 1756, and he had to post bail 
or be jailed. That same year several Pennsylvania masters initiated legal 
proceedings against recruiters. Colonial lawyers, revealingly, argued that 
servants, as property, had no free will, and thus could not be taken against 

97 Recruiting Instructions [1755], LO727/15. 

98 Horatio Sharpe to William Shirley, 2 Feb. 1756, LO793/186. 

99 Corbin Lee to Gov. Horatio Sharp, 30 April 1757, LO3506/76. 

100 Pennsylvania, General Assembly, House of Representatives, Address to Robert Hunter 
Morris, 11 Feb. 1756, LO819/18. 



their masters' wishes. 101 Direct action against recruiters also occurred. Pieter 
Van Ingen of the Royal Americans enlisted a servant of Samuel Henry at 
Trenton, Newjersey, in August 1756. Henry later confronted him in a tavern 
demanding his servant or money in recompense, striking him on the head 
with an iron-tipped cane when he refused. Van Ingen chased him off with 
his sword, but Henry returned with friends in an attempt to capture the 
servant. Again the recruiting party drove them off. When they tried to 
leave, though, Henry attacked Van Ingen with a pitchfork, which he parried 
with his sword. He retreated inside and had his men fasten knives to poles. 
They sallied forth and routed Henry's party, which surrendered the field 
and the servant. But when mob rule failed, Henry turned to the law, and 
had a justice send a constable to Van Ingen demanding he give up the man 
or the money, or go to jail. Van Ingen refused and a writ was served upon 
him, and he was jailed in a "Stinking" cell despite the protest of his colonel 
as to the illegality of his imprisonment. 102 

The ongoing furore over recruitment necessitated state intervention. 
Parliament extended the Mutiny Act to the colonies and adopted legislation 
on the recruitment of both free individuals and indentured servants in March 
1756. 103 To quell any complaints that free men had been duped into enlisting, 
the law required a recruit to be taken to a justice of the peace after twenty-four 
hours and within four days of his listing to swear to his willingness to enlist. If 
he balked, he had to return the levy money and pay 20s sterling for expenses; 
otherwise he was considered enlisted. The act also addressed the thorny issue 
of recruiting indentured servants, making it lawful to recruit indentured 
servants who volunteered, but stipulated that, if the owner protested within 
six months, the recruiting officer must either give up the servant upon being 
repaid the enlisting money, or pay the master a sum to be determined by two 
justices of the peace based on the original purchase price and the amount of 
time left to be served. 104 Parliament with this act codified the fiscal-military 
state's premise that the army's need for manpower prevailed over private 

101 William Shirley [to Henry Fox], 8 March 1756, LO890/20; Shirley to Robert Hunter Morris, 
20 Feb. 1756, in Lincoln, Correspondence of William Shirley, II, pp. 391-392, n. 1; Robert Sterling 
to Loudoun, 23 Aug. 1756, LO1548/35; Major Rutherford [to Loudoun], 23 Aug. 1756, LO1549/35; 
Charles Hardy to Lord Halifax, 7 May 1756, inPargellis, Military Affairs in North America, 7748- 
1765, pp. 174-175- 

102 Pieter Van Ingen, Affidavit, 18 April 1757, LO3376/74; James Prevost [to Loudoun], 5 April 
1757, LO3294/72; John Smyth, certificate, 6 April 1757, LO3300/73. 

103 Great Britain, Parliament [An act for the better recruiting of His Majesty's Forces on the 
Continent of America; and for the Regulation of the Army . . .]. 25 March 1756, LO2583/21. 

104 In response, Benjamin Franklin filed a petition on behalf of fellow Pennsylvania masters 
claiming £3,652 and a half pence Pennsylvania currency for 612 servants listed: List of Servants 



interest, whether communal or familial concern for the liberty of individu- 
als who enlisted, or masters' property in human labor for the purpose of 
individual economic gain. In taking this position the act effectively made the 
army the preeminent employer of labor in the colonies, at once master to free 
laborers and bonded servants purchased from reluctant owners. 

The recruiting legislation did not prevent conflict from occurring over 
mobilization in the colonies, however, as it did not remove the root issue of 
control of labor power. "We shall have a great deal of difficulty to recruit of 
our Regiment", confessed an officer, "the People of this Country having no 
great affection for a red Coat, nor do they stay long with us after they list 
when they find an opportunity to take their leave." Another complained 
"there is a general backwardness in the people of this province to the Kings 
service, which is but too much encouraged by all sorts of people, as they 
seem to consider every man, we enlist, as a real loss to the Province". 105 Thus 
regiments in Halifax found it necessary to recruit as far south as Maryland 
in 1756, having more luck the further south they went, whereas those in 
South Carolina two years later had to strike 300 miles northward. 106 The 
physical requirements were also lowered with any man "free from Ruptures, 
Convulsions, and Infirmities, and fit for service", being acceptable. In 1758, 
Loudoun remarked that if the army wanted to get "fighting men, We must 
not at present Insist either on Size or Beauty". Perhaps this explains how 
John Rainsdown, described as "hump back'd, crook'd Legs, and 4 feet 6 
inches high", got into the Royal Americans. 107 Still, the army operated well 
below its strength on paper. Such reluctance to serve in the regulars played 
a role in Pitt's decision to send ever more regular regiments to America. 

The army competed directly with other employers for labor but govern- 
ment policy limited what they could offer recruits. The colonial provincial 
regiments in particular monopolized men of recruiting age because they 
offered better terms of employment. The provinces paid higher bounties 

Belonging to the inhabitants of Pennsylvania and taken into His Majesty's Service, 21 April 1757, 

105 William Eyre to Col Napier, 23 Jan. 1756, LO766/17; John Cosnan to Col Forbes, 9 Jan. 1758, 

106 Charles Lawrence to Loudoun, 19 Oct. 1756, LO2042/46; Officers belonging to the Regiments 
in Nova Scotia upon Recruiting Duty, [9 Nov. 1756], LO2186/50; John Tulleken [to Loudoun], 29 
Jan. 1758, LO5486/118. 

107 Pargellis, Lord Loudoun in North America, pp. 110-111; [Loudoun] to Maj. Gen. Hopson, 23 
Jan. 1758, LO5451/117; Arthur Nicholson, Return of Men found unfit for Service, 23 April 1757, 
LO3433, box 74. 



than the typical £3 inducement for regular recruits. 108 The regular army's 
term of service also played a role as well. As a rule, men enlisted for life 
during peacetime. The need for ever more bodies during wartime, however, 
forced the army at times to offer short-term service, usually three to five 
years, but sometimes fewer. Nonetheless, life enlistment remained the 
basic experience of regular troops in the Seven Years War. 109 By comparison, 
provincial soldiers typically signed on for the campaign, usually spring 
through fall. Provincial service paid better wages as well. Regular soldiers 
received a daily wage of eight pence, two of which were deducted as "off- 
reckonings" for payments to various offices (the Exchequer, Paymaster 
General, Chelsea Hospital, the regimental agent), and to provide the troops' 
annual regimental clothing, necessaries, and accoutrements (a further 
seven pence per week went to the regimental surgeon and paymaster, and 
to cover company expenses for a man's "necessaries" like shoes, gaiters, arms 
repair, and barbering). 110 Fred Anderson, for example, calculated the net 
income (wage, food, and lodging) of a Massachusetts soldier at 2s provincial 
currency per day, or roughly twice that of a regular. 111 Virginia provincials, 
by comparison, received only 8d a day local currency (worth 40-70 per 
cent of sterling), which compared unfavorably to the 2-3S a day wages for 
unskilled labor or to the earnings of provincials in neighboring colonies, no 
doubt contributing to the need for the colony to conscript troops in the war's 
early years and to offer higher bounties later on. 112 The average wage for the 
provincials from the more northerly colonies who did most of the fighting, 
however, was significantly more than their redcoated comrades in arms. 

Many colonists did join the regulars despite all the conflict surrounding 
recruitment, especially in the first two years of the war. For the regiments 
that returned the nativity of troops in 1757, those born in the American 
colonies accounted for 755 of 14,166 men (5.3 per cent) and natives of Europe 
enlisted in the colonies for 803 (5.7 per cent), making more than one in 

108 For example, Massachusetts bounties inflated from £3-£4 in 1755 to a peak of more than 
£26 in 1760. See Anderson, A People's Army, p. 225. 

109 For example, the 45th Regiment, which had been stationed in Halifax since the previous 
war and had recruited extensively in North America, reported in 1757 that of its 955 soldiers: 819 
(85.8 per cent) had enlisted for life, 1 for twenty years (0.1 per cent), 1 for seven (0.1 per cent), 5 
for six (0.5 per cent), 2 for four (0.2 per cent), and 127 men (13.3 per cent) had signed on for three 
years. See Muster Rolls of the 45th Regiment, April 1757, LO6987/76. 

110 Steppler, "The Common Soldier in the Reign of George III", pp. 95-105. 

111 Anderson, A People's Army, pp. 38-39. 

112 Titus, Old Dominion at War, pp. 4-45, 163 n. 87; Robert Dinwiddie to Loudoun, 24 May 1756, 



every ten soldiers an "American" recruit (Table 10.1). 113 In recruiting such 
numbers, the British Army did not merely target the marginal but reached 
into the heart of colonial production. In a sample of sixty-six regular recruits 
mostly from the Boston area, forty-one (62.1 per cent) came from artisanal 
backgrounds (with shoemakers and tailors being most represented), eleven 
(16.7 per cent) came from agriculture, eleven (16.7 per cent) had performed 
manual labor, and three (4.5 per cent) clerical or professional work. 114 

An account of recruiting in America clearly reveals the army's impact on 
colonial economies. Great differences existed between regions, most strik- 
ingly between north and south because of the latter's growing dependence on 
slavery. But in the mid-Atlantic region and New England, the two main areas 
of recruitment for the army, petty production based upon the household in 
the agricultural and the craft sectors, proved the norm, with familial labor 
playing an important role and, particularly in the mid-Atlantic, bonded 
labor making significant contributions. 115 At the same time, labor scarcity 
prevailed throughout the colonies. Military recruitment exacerbated this 
situation and this clash between household production and state-sponsored 
enterprise on an Atlantic scale partly explains the fractious experience 
of mobilization. Its effect on indentured servitude figured centrally. First 
without any explicit policy, then with the backing of a British parliamentary 
act, the army "freed" many servants from bondage and introduced them 
to paid military labor. Although it promised reimbursement for the loss of 
contract time, cash could not immediately replace scarce labor. Likewise, 
the recruiting of free men hit farm and craft households, where the young 
men targeted by the army performed important labor as family members, 
apprentices or journeymen, and servants. Their call to arms produced cries 
of concern as it meant a loss of labor, one reason why colonials looked more 
favorably upon enlistment to the provincial regiments, given the annual 
term of service and the fact that money earned tended to be expended 
locally. To the extent that the regular army (with the government's backing) 
facilitated the recruitment of such men and their abstraction from family 
and village for longer periods, it had a direct impact on domestic economies. 

113 Stanley Pargellis estimated that 7,500 colonials enlisted in the British army in 1755-1757; Dan 
Higgonbotham, 11,000 during the war as a whole. See Pargellis, Lord Loudoun in NorthAmerica, 
pp. 108-109; Higgonbotham, "The Early American Way of War", p. 235. 

114 For a full presentation of this data, see Way, "Rebellion of the Regulars", pp. 768-769. 

115 A voluminous literature exists on the colonial economy. See, for example, Henretta, 
"Families and Farms"; Salinger, "To Serve Well and Faithfully"; Kulikoff The Agrarian Origins 
of American Capitalism; Schultz, Republic of Labor; Vickers, Farmers and Fishermen; Kulikoff, 
From British Peasants to Colonial American Farmers. 



British demands for support thus met with American recalcitrance and 
outright resistance to the effort to mobilize manpower in the Seven Years 
War. In the process of a massive mutual enterprise, feelings of difference 
sharpened, acquiring an edge that the infusion of funds from the British 
fiscal-military state and the shared military success of the later war years 
blunted, but the blade had been tempered and needed only another imperial 
crisis to whet the distinction between Briton and American. 


Warfare in the eighteenth century operated according to the principles of the 
military revolution, the basic premise of which hinged on bringing as many 
men as possible onto the battlefield. For every nation-state, mobilization 
occurred within a particular political economy at a particular moment in 
history. In the era of the Seven Years War, a rapidly commercializing economy 
spread across British dominions and created a surplus of labor that facilitated 
raising the army. England's control of other political states, achieved through 
successive colonization of Ireland and union with Scotland, cemented by the 
repression of the Jacobite threat, enabled the expropriation of their wealth to 
fund military endeavors and the exploitation of their populations as sources 
of military labor, while commercialization of their economies along English 
lines freed individuals from ties to the soil and trades. The attempt to exer- 
cise similar force in the American colonies, where labor scarcity prevailed, 
encountered more resistance from people less used to the yoke of British 
rule, whose economic activities relied upon the control of labor that could be 
sorely spared for soldiering. However, the financial might of Britain bought 
American compliance, particularly in the funding of the provincial regi- 
ments, and colonists in the tens of thousands joined the fight against France 
either as regulars or colonial troops. Warfare for Britain thus required not a 
simple conjoining of state interest and military acumen, but rested upon the 
historical development of capital and ongoing class formation, enabling the 
fiscal-military state to colonize the resources and labor power of dependent 
polities. As a result, the nation could rely on volunteers to practice the art of 
war in its interests. 

Mobilization of warrior populations in 
the Ottoman context, 1750-1850 

Virginia H. Aksan 

Mustafa Vasfi Efendi of Kabud, a native of a village near Tokat, in Anatolia, 
Turkey, spent the years from 1801 to 1833 in Ottoman military service, 
first in Erzurum, as part of the troops under Dramali Mahmud Pasha, 
then in Agriboz (Euboia, Greece), where he signed on with Carhaci (Chief 
Skirmisher) Ali Pasha, and then Omer Vyroni Pasha, during the Greek 
Revolution. His simplistic, semi-literate description of battles, sieges, 
looting, and pillaging is one of the few pre-World War I Ottoman military 
memoirs we possess. The following passage is typical of the work, and is 
evocative of the life of one Ottoman irregular. Vasfi Efendi's escapade here 
appears to have been a private enterprise, and evoked no discipline other 
than a scolding from his commander. 

"The Janissaries, because they were on foot, soon fell behind", he begins. 
"We, who had good horses, went on ahead. We were altogether eighteen 
horsemen. Anyway, we went off and arrived in an infidel village." They 
sat down under two mulberry trees, whereupon some local inhabitants 
approached them, and said: "We are afraid of you. We have wives and 
daughters on that mountain over there. If you give us protection, we will 
come down. We said: 'the pasha has sent us and we have orders to protect 
you.' The infidels were extremely glad, went away and brought lamb and 
bread to us. About twenty to thirty women and girls came with them." 
The cavalrymen grew afraid of being outnumbered, and isolated for the 
night, when they assumed the infidels would slay them, so "[we] took the 
infidels, cut off their heads, captured these thirty women and girls, and took 
off." They came upon a church, captured the infidels who were inside the 
church, cut off their heads and hid in the church for the night. They found 
5,000 sheep beside the church the next day, and with sheep and captives, 
returned towards their camp. On the way back, an encounter with a troop 
of janissaries resulted in their losing captives and booty at gunpoint. "I had 
a girl and woman with me, and two mules. They [the janissaries] arrived, 
plundered all my possessions. I remained behind as a simple foot soldier." 
Then, running into other janissaries, Vasfi pretended to be of their number 
and complained of his treatment by his comrades. A Kurdish servant of 
the janissaries addressed those who had abused him: "you have taken this 



man's possessions, slave girls, and severed infidels' heads. Things like this 
do not befit our corps. Now give this man his belongings." Vasfi Efendi thus 
retrieved his booty, and returned to camp. His commander rewarded him 
with two coins for the heads, but chastised him that the deli horsemen 
(his regiment presumably) had no business advancing ahead of the main 
army corps. 1 

What was it to be employed as a hired gun, either enlisted irregular 
or mercenary, in the Ottoman military system? Embedded in Mustafa's 
description is the problem that confronts us when we try to examine 
military labor in the Ottoman context. Inter-service rivalries, motivation, 
loyalty, and discipline - common problems for historians of all armies - are 
all evident in his account, which is predominantly a tale about military 
entrepreneurship. Over the long history of the empire, words such as 
deli, ba§ibozuk, sekban, sarica, and levend, terms for bands of warriors, or 
semi-autonomous regiments, unpredictable and often lethal, have come 
to exemplify the breakdown of the Ottoman "classical" military after 1650. 
In the nineteenth century, the notorious ba§ibozuks (literally "broken- 
headed" or "masterless" ones), Ottoman irregulars, were blamed for almost 
all disturbances, but especially the so-called Bulgarian atrocities which led 
to the Russo-Ottoman War of 1877-1878. The extent to which the images of 
such irregulars are embedded in the public imagination of post-Ottoman 
national histories is one of the chief differences between the Ottomans and 
the other regions of our collaborative project. 

This chapter will explore the ways in which the Ottomans conceptualized 
and utilized volunteer and contractual soldiers over time, especially for the 
period 1750-1850; I argue that, during one of the most difficult periods for the 
survival of the empire, the Ottomans evolved from a largely commissioned 
state army (the janissaries and the timariots) into a federative military 
system that came to be dominated by semi-autonomous fighters, first as 
auxiliaries to the traditional janissary/sipahi organization and then as 
entrepreneurial ethnic bands. This is John Lynn's "aggregate contract army", 
consisting of small numbers of state troops, mercenary bands, and private 
armies raised by provincial elites. Local officials, in effect, had become 
military contractors, a system which empowered provincial households 
and sanctioned the perpetuation of a style and ethos of military life that 

1 Schmidt, "The Adventure of an Ottoman Horseman: the Autobiography of Kabudli Vasfi 
Efendi, 1800-1825", in Jan Schmidt, The Joys of Philology: Studies in Ottoman Literature, History 
and Orientalism (1500-1923) (Istanbul, 2002), I, pp. 284-285, quoted in Aksan, Ottoman Wars 
7700-1870, p. 298. 


persisted into the twentieth century. In what follows, I will schematize the 
kind of forces available to the sultans before 1700 and how they financed 
the system before turning to the changes evident after 1750 when the need 
for manpower became particularly acute in the northern frontier wars with 
the Russians. As the classical Ottoman military formations broke down, a 
large proportion of the Ottoman population became complicit in and tied 
to the Ottoman center through tax privileges and contractual obligations 
to supply the battlefields of the empire. 

Aspects of the pre-1700 Ottoman system 

Prior to 1700, the Ottoman military system was based on three components: 
the janissary standing infantry, created in the fourteenth century and 
numbering some 20,000 in Siileyman the Magnificent's time (1520-1566); 
the fief-based timariots, the sipahis, a cavalry class which could muster 
some 80,000 for imperial campaigns; and auxiliary troops raised locally, 
with well-defined roles in skirmishing, guarding mountain passes, and 
garrison support for the Ottoman expansion, especially on the European 
frontier. 2 The Ottoman strategy with newly conquered populations was 
to negotiate tax benefits based on the potential of local martial expertise 
and intelligence. 3 

The Ottoman Empire maintained such center/periphery relationships 
as a contractual, negotiated enterprise until the 1830s, a system which 
proved flexible as it accumulated new territories. While coercive in initial 
conquest, the extension of Ottoman power proved highly adaptive to widely 
diverse local situations, and attempted no real integration except as related 
to shari'a law and taxes. Using local systems of defense and awarding tax 
breaks were attractive instruments to frontier populations initially and, in 
the early days of empire, Christian as well as Muslim auxiliaries acquired 

2 The most recent assessments of the pre-1700 Ottoman military are by Agoston, "Empires 
and Warfare in East-Central Europe", and Murphey, "Ottoman Military Organisation in South- 
Eastern Europe". 

3 Palmira Brummett, Nicholas Vatin, Gilles Veinstein, Hasan Karateke and Maurus Reinkowski 
have expanded our knowledge of Ottoman dynastic self-conception and projection as well, but 
there is much to do to put the Ottoman house in a comparative context as regards sovereignty, 
imperial designs, and military manpower. A recent work goes a long way to bridging the gap: 
Burbank and Cooper, Empires in World History. Birdal, The Holy Roman Empire and the Ottomans, 
is an example of new work on the eastern land empires. Also important are Brummett, "Imagin- 
ing the Early Modern Ottoman Space"; Vatin and Veinstein, Le serail ebranle; and Karateke and 
Reinkowski, Legitimizing the Order. 



privileges based on their service in the military system. As time went by, 
"turning Turk" (becoming Muslim by conversion) was the route to power, 
whether you were Albanian, Bulgarian, or Serbian. Even then, apart from 
the dev§irme, the slave tributary children destined for the janissaries, such 
conversions were largely voluntary. 4 

What motivated such populations? For the earlier centuries, the ghazi 
warrior, that is, the Muslim warrior whose motivation was solely ideological, 
was long argued as instrumental to the success of the Ottoman imperial 
drive for expansion of the Dar-al-Islam. Though challenged by new com- 
prehensive views on the diversity of the ethnic and religious populations 
who collaborated with the house of Osman in the early years, the idea of 
the fanatical Muslim warrior remains prevalent in much of the literature. 5 
The argument is made that the primary Ottoman social hierarchies and tax 
categories before 1750 were delineated around religion: Muslims and non- 
Muslims. Non-Muslims were tolerated as second-class citizens who paid 
a poll tax {cizye) and were not allowed to serve in the military. The askeri 
(military) class, those who did fight and achieved tax-exempt status, were 
nominally Muslim warrior populations. But it would be naive to insist on 
the Muslimness of men who surely were motivated by the same self-interest 
and social networks characteristic of all military environments. Self-interest 
is especially evident in the eighteenth century when the state came to rely 
more and more on irregular troops under the command of local provincial 
elites. Campaign headquarters on the European and Persian frontiers cer- 
tainly operated as the Ottoman government-on-parade, and employment 
in the military was naturally a ritual of submission, an essential part of 
the Ottoman performance of sovereignty, but cash rewards, as indicated 
in Mustafa's story, remained a constant incentive for participation in the 
Ottoman system until at least the 1820s. 

In short, auxiliary or mobile warriors, Muslim and Christian, did have 
a fair amount of autonomy over their participation in imperial campaigns 
or postings at strategic fortress garrisons. Until the end of the eighteenth 
century, purging of the Ottoman forces of "infidels" was not part of Ottoman 
policy. That is to say, little systematic inspection about the "Muslimness" of 

4 This remains a much contested subject in the field. On conversion in the seventeenth 
century, see Krstic, Contested Conversions to Islam; David and Fodor, Ransom Slavery along the 
Ottoman Borders; Anscombe, "Albanians and Mountain Bandits"; Baer, Honored by the Glory of 
Islam; and Minkov, Conversion to Islam in the Balkans. 

5 Finkel, Osman's Dream; Imber, The Ottoman Empire, 1300-1650, 2nd edn; Barkey, Empire of 
Difference. See also Aksan, "Locating the Ottomans among Early Modern Empires". For an as- 
sessment of Barkey's book and two others, see Aksan, "Turks and Ottomans among the Empires". 


the Ottoman rank-and-file troops, whether in the janissaries, sipahi cavalry 
troops or the myriad auxiliaries, seems to have occurred. Declaring oneself 
Muslim often sufficed for certification and a piece of paper, such as the 
janissary esame (pay chit), or the six-month contract as part of a mercenary 
unit, guaranteed an attachment to the dynasty. This was particularly 
true of the provincial garrisons, where a web of military entrepreneurial 
networks coalesced around tax revenues and agriculture beginning in the 
mid-seventeenth century, which would have attracted local inhabitants in 
considerable numbers. 

Call it Ottoman pragmatism or Ottoman secularism, there seems to have 
been a tolerance for notional Muslimness in these military milieus. Con- 
versely, one of the great ironies of the Ottoman dynasty is that it expressed 
itself as most "Muslim" after the 1820s, precisely when shrinking territories 
made manpower shortages a potential problem, and put pressure on central 
Anatolia Muslim male populations. For the Ottomans, the need to mobilize 
volunteer warriors became paramount when empire-wide conscription 
or general mobilization was attempted in the nineteenth century, but the 
resistance to including Christians restricted the available population to 
Muslims, and the call to holy war (Jihad) seldom produced substantial 
numbers. 6 

The post-1700 environment 

After 1700, the main obsession of the dynasty was the preservation of the 
Danubian, Black Sea, and Caucasus borders against the predations of the 
Russians, their chief and relentlessly successful foe. The need to defend the 
borders, which became a matter of survival, engendered different relation- 
ships between the center and its warrior populations, two aspects of which 
are noteworthy: the mobility and utilization of diverse ethno-religious 
nomadic and warrior populations, and the expansion of the askeri (military) 
population via the redistribution of the wealth of the state. What is striking 
in this context, as compared to European armies of this later period, is 
the proportion of horsemen (cavalry) that continued to be available to 
the dynasty, either in state-financed auxiliary regiments, or as ethnically 
constructed warrior bands, as contrasted to the European battlefields where 

6 Hakan Erdem is very good on this: "Recruitment of 'Victorious Soldiers of Muhammad'". 
The year 1908 was the first time there was a mobilization of "citizens" regardless of religion or 
ethnicity. See also Aksan, "Ottoman Military and Social Transformations". 



warfare turned to armed confrontations of large numbers of disciplined 
infantrymen, and cavalry forces served very specific, increasingly limited 
functions. The obsession with the northern frontier battlefront arc also led 
in the Ottoman case to a neglect of the southern tier of the empire which 
allowed for the expansion of nomadic and mobile populations, such as the 
Bedouin and Kurdish tribes, who maintained autonomy by their original 
submission to Ottoman hegemony and payment of annual tributes to the 
central treasury. 

Resat Kasaba has recently theorized that the persistence of mobile popu- 
lations was facilitated by the important roles they played, such as protecting 
the Hajj route caravans, and defending the Iranian border against Nadir 
Shah in the early eighteenth century. The failure to impose sedentarization 
on such tribal structures, however, ultimately caused the dynasty end- 
less problems in the nineteenth century, especially in forging a modern, 
conscripted, and disciplined military force from such populations. 7 

By contrast, in both the Austrian and Russian contexts, fixing the 
frontiers included efforts to settle what had once been zones of economic 
and cultural exchange where warrior societies dominated. As the work 
of Gunther E. Rothenberg and Carol B. Stevens has demonstrated, both 
Habsburgs and Romanovs strove to settle autonomous warrior populations, 
the former using Serbs and Croats for a military corridor, the latter engaging 
to tame frontier populations such as the Cossacks by establishing military 
colonies guarding the Russian territorial expansion to the south. 8 The 
Ottomans faced a different problem. As the Ottoman Empire contracted 
after 1700, demobilized soldiers flooded across newly agreed-upon borders, 
and not all were absorbed, or could be absorbed, into the military environ- 
ment. It is not insignificant that all the Habsburg-Ottoman treaties from 
1699 on have specific clauses relating to how the two sides ought to deal 
with frontier-transgressing soldiers. 9 The failure to settle demobilized 
populations such as the janissaries crossing into the homeland from Europe 
after 1700 is very significant, and virtually untouched in the research, the 
exception perhaps being Vidin, where Rossitsa Gradeva and her colleagues 
have ably described a city that shifted from being Ottoman hinterland to 

7 Kasaba, A Moveable Empire; Aharoni, The Pasha's Bedouin, has interesting observations 
about the contrast between Ottoman (Mehmed Ali) and French attitudes to Bedouin tribesmen. 

8 Rothenberg, The Military Border in Croatia; Stevens, Soldiers on the Steppes; see also Stevens, 
Russia's Wars of Emergence. 

9 Smiley, "The Rules of War on the Ottoman Frontiers"; Aksan, "Whose Territory and Whose 



Ottoman frontier garrison town after 1699. 10 Thus, the Ottomans had both 
indigenous nomadic populations and unemployed, demobilized soldiers to 
contend with as they undertook to reform the military system. 

The Ottomans attempted to change the rules regarding tribal/state rela- 
tionships as the need for the manpower and revenues of Arab and Kurdish 
tribesmen became acute, especially in the long struggle with Mehmed Ali 
Pasha of Egypt over greater Syria from 1821 to 1841. Historians now generally 
allow that it is only then, when the Ottomans were trying to recover or 
integrate lost or tenuously held territories such as the mountainous frontiers 
of Albania or the Caucasus for the first time, that they can be said to have 
acted as an internal colonial power by civilizing such martial populations. 
The power of the tribal networks, paradoxically, is said to have expanded 
in direct proportion to the state's interest in centralization and reform. 11 
Stefan Winter's project on the rural history of Ottoman Syria in the nine- 
teenth century is particularly instructive about the Ottoman application of 
ethnographic labels to hitherto undifferentiated tribal groups as one aspect 
of Ottoman (re) centralization projects. These were the populations, not just 
Kurds and Bedouins, but also Albanians and Circassians, who remained 
fiercely martial and proudly autonomous until the early 1900s, upon whom 
the Ottoman dynasty came to rely for military labour. 12 

The expansion of the military population 

How do we define an Ottoman subject of the askeri class at the turn of 
the eighteenth century? Recent, systematic work on the Ottoman idea of 
political households and the devolution of state wealth as tax farms has had 

10 Gradeva, "Between Hinterland and Frontier". Geza David and Pal Fodor have also edited two 
volumes on Hungarian- Ottoman military aifairs-.Hungarian-Ottoman Military and Diplomatic 
Relations in the Age of Suleyman the Magnificent and Ottomans, Hungarians and Habsburgs 
in Central Europe. A recent dissertation, by Tolga Esmer, "A Culture of Rebellion", includes 
significant evidence concerning the breakdown of askeri-reaya categories following 1699, and 
especially in the long struggle between Selim III and Osman Pasvantoglu ofVidin. 

11 Kasaba, A Moveable Empire, es pecially ch. 4. 

12 Makdisi, "Ottoman Orientalism", discusses why the Ottomans should be seen as a colonial 
power in the second half of the nineteenth century; Winter, "The Province of Raqqa under 
Ottoman Rule", forms part of an extended project underway: "Tribes and Voivodes of Ottoman 
Syria: A Rural History of the Early Modern Period". See also Kiihn, "Borderlands of the Ottoman 
Empire in the 19th and Early 20th Century", with articles by Thomas Kiihn, Isa Blumi, Ryan 
Gingeras and Charles Herzog. For the Yemen context, a late Ottoman colonial frontier, see 
Willis, "Making Yemen Indian". 



a great deal to tell us. 13 Tributary, clientage, and patronage relationships 
were essential to the initial conquests of Ottoman territories as well as to its 
later survival. In the seventeenth century, we see the expansion of elaborate 
and expensive household systems which often included military units that 
drew on the mercenary populations in the provinces. Such relationships, 
conceptualized as political households, were built on the ability to com- 
mand coalitions of soldiers and slaves, led by charismatic families who 
acquired or wrested access to larger and larger parts of provincial revenues, 
and maintained networks of communication and influence in Istanbul 
as time went on. That the source of much of this manpower derived from 
captured slaves turned valued members of an extended family may be the 
unique aspect of the Ottoman context. 

The greatest of the slave/political households was initially that of the 
sultan and his "sons", the janissaries, and his harem. Emulating that 
household at the Ottoman center were "native" families of influence, 
organized similarly, and competing for the ranks of the ulema and the 
central administrative offices. These could be made up of slaves (kuls) who 
might even establish their own slave household. Such was the household 
of Husrev Pasha, the notorious adviser of Mahmud II, whose Circassian 
slave household populated much of the late nineteenth-century Ottoman 
administration. 14 All members of the ruling class derived some privilege via 
membership in these collectives, the askeri class largely writ, which meant 
an intensification of competition for access to the resources of the state. 

Such political households, replicated on a smaller scale in the provinces, 
and including slave /client members, grew ubiquitous after the early seven- 
teenth century. How this happened is just now unfolding as more and more 
regional archival studies are published. The redistribution of state revenues, 
from timars to tax farming, first annual and then life-term (maLikane), as 
well as the widespread application of new, extraordinary taxes (avariz) 
to support lengthy military campaigns, empowered the growth of such 
local households who maintained representatives in Istanbul guarding 
the interests of the particular household. This trend most represents a 
similar devolution of state wealth in Bourbon France in the seventeenth 
century, as exemplified by the military fiscalism of the centralizing state, 

13 The most recent summary of the status of the research in Faroqhi, The Cambridge History 
of Turkey, III, The Later Ottoman Empire, 7603-7S39, with articles by Bruce Masters, Christoph 
Neumann, Virginia Aksan, Carter Findley, Dina Khoury, and Fikret Adanir on the subject of 
political households and Ottomanization. 

14 See especially C.A. Bayly's introductory article, "Distorted Development", in a volume of 
comparative essays. 


and the creation of a class of provincial officials known as the intendants. 
In the Ottoman case, the beneficiaries of the new system appear to have 
been the janissaries. In other words, the sultans were forced to redistribute 
the right to collect the tax revenues of the empire in order to procure the 
large armies necessitated by the battlefields of the late seventeenth and 
eighteenth centuries. 

To what extent this development accelerated the integration of the janis- 
sary corps into provincial elites and/or caused the collapse of the sipahi class 
as a source of battle-ready manpower is still a question for debate. 15 What 
is clear is that the eclipse of the sipahi class and the simultaneous loss of 
control over the size and discipline of the janissary forces diminished the 
Ottoman central capacity to organize warfare effectively. This required the 
introduction of other methods of raising manpower, which led gradually 
to the increased use of ethnically/regionally based autonomous bands as 
described above. Their loyalties lay with their patrons, their households, 
and their ethnic brotherhoods, but the source of their wealth ultimately 
remained tied to the continuation of the dynasty. Hence, many authors now 
refer to this period as the Ottomanization of the provinces, or the creation 
of the Ottoman-local class, or even as the reaya-ization of the janissaries. 
As Hiilya Canbakal notes regarding the Ottoman seventeenth-century 
resemblance to European trends of the period: "modern state-formation 
now appears to have involved successive stages of centralism and provincial 
accommodation that resulted in the rejuvenation of the ruling class and 
allowed the state to capitalize on wider economic and political resources". 
She adds, "In the Ottoman case, the acquisition of stipends, posts and tax 
farming contracts also made one an 'askeri, as did claiming descent from 
the prophet Muhammad or entering a military corps. In other words, one 
dimension of the process characterized as Ottomanization overlapped with 
a formal transformation: the expansion of the 'askeri." 16 

Canbakal's askeri class, defined according to a survey of 1697, but rooted in 
long-time practice, included all those on stipends (preachers, prayer-leaders, 
scribes, trustees of charitable organizations, tax collectors and overseers, 
inhabitants of dervish convents, Quran reciters, and the like); semiprofes- 
sional auxiliary troops; descendants of the Prophet; those providing special 
services such as falcon-raisers, mountain pass guards, bridge-keepers, mes- 
sengers, share-croppers on state land, rice cultivators, sheep producers, 

15 As ably argued by Agoston, "Military Transformation in the Ottoman Empire and Russia". 

16 Canbakal, Society and Politics in an Ottoman Town, pp. 62-63; Toledano, "The Emergence of 
Ottoman-Local Elites"; Raduschev, "'Peasant' Janissaries?" 



sheep and cattle dealers, copper miners, deputy judges, and city wardens; 
and finally, janissaries and sipahis, that is, some 1,053 members or 36 per 
cent of all the households. 17 The list reminds us of two things: that the askeri 
class was made up of far more than just "soldiers", and that the competition 
for certification by the center, which in some cases required reapplication 
on an annual basis, must have been intense, necessitating the spidery webs 
of households and patronage connections described by Barkey. 

What had happened to the financial status of the soldiers in the survey 
to move them to compete for local revenues as described? In brief, the 
timariot/sipahi cavalryman, the original free Turkic warrior who was 
essential to the success of the Ottoman dynasty, was rewarded by the as- 
signment of noninheritable grants of land (dirliks) to support the soldier 
and his entourage on campaign. By the mid-seventeenth century, the yields/ 
tax returns on such assignments no longer sufficed to entice the sipahis 
away from their holdings to go on campaign, unless it was to preserve the 
holdings themselves, by responding to the command either to turn up at the 
battlefront or lose their entitlement. Their numbers averaged 50,000-80,000 
depending on the size of the campaign throughout most of the seventeenth 
and early eighteenth centuries, but clearly were on the decline. By 1768, the 
number of sipahis had become insignificant in contrast to the numbers 
of temporarily hired troops, called levends, who were mobilized by local 
provincial families or officials with central treasury funds. Orders for the 
mobilization of as many as 80,000 such troops were sent to provincial of- 
ficials for the campaign on the Danube in 1769. Ahmed Resmi Efendi, on 
the battlefront at that campaign, noted that only a few old men claiming 
to be timariots appeared, and that the janissaries were demanding they be 
assigned a timar before they would fight, yet more evidence of the competi- 
tion over local resources. 18 

The janissary infantry system had emerged in the fourteenth century 
as a strategy aimed at creating a force totally dedicated to the security and 
perpetuation of the Ottoman house, in contrast to the voluntary commit- 
ment of the sipahi cavalry. The janissaries added formidable matchlock/ 
flintlock firepower to the Ottoman arsenal. The effectiveness of both the 
infantry and cavalry systems, however, diminished precipitously after their 
peak around 1650. In the 1560s, the janissaries numbered some 12,800; in 
1609 their ranks stood at 37,000, a number which remained fairly constant 
until it approached 70,000 in the protracted war with the Habsburgs from 

17 Canbakal, Society and Politics in an Ottoman Town, pp. 68-70. 

18 Aksan, Ottoman Wars, 7700-7870, pp. 53-57. 


1683 to 1699, and 61,000 a hundred years later in the 1768-1774 war with the 
Russians. 19 We know of at least two instances when the janissary muster 
rolls were inspected: in 1688, 20,000 were struck from the registers; in 1771, 
some 30,000 names were removed. 20 

By the end of the eighteenth century, there may have been as many 
as 400,000 janissaries on the sultan's payroll, but only 10 per cent of that 
likely exaggerated number could be described as campaign-ready. Sultan 
Selim Ill's (1789-1807) encounter with the inflated registers is recorded in 
Ahmed Cevdet's history. The sultan responded angrily when his advisers 
warned him that it would take decades to settle the claims and rectify the 
registers in order to accumulate salaries for new recruits: "My God! What 
kind of situation is this? Two of the barbers who shave me say they are 
members of the artillery corps! If we call for soldiers, we are told What 
can we do? There are no salaried soldiers to go on campaign.' Let others be 
enrolled we say, and we are told 'There is no money in the treasury' If we 
say, there must be a remedy, we are told 'Now is not the time to interfere 
with the regiments.'" 21 Cevdet, an admirer of Selim III, is clearly exculpating 
the sultan from complicity in the corruption evident in this story, but not 
those around him. The burden of janissary privileges and entitlements 
had become intolerable but resistant to reform because the entire ruling 
class was benefiting from the sultan's largesse, much to Selim Ill's chagrin. 

Selim III abandoned the accession price (the gift bonus to his janissaries 
to secure their pledge of allegiance) because he had no money to pay for 
it. Certainly part of that had to do with central janissary salaries, most of 
which were paid out of the sultan's treasury. The annual Ottoman budget 
of the later eighteenth century has been reckoned at somewhere around 
15,000,000 kuru§. I once tried to establish how much was handed out as 
salaries only to the KapikuLu janissaries (infantry, artillery, armoury only) 
during the 1768-1774 war, and came up with an estimate for the war years 
1769 to late 1771 of 6,005,453 kuru§. Z2 That gives us at least an idea of what 

19 Agoston, "Empires and Warfare in East-Central Europe", pp. 128-129. 

20 Aksan, Ottoman Wars, 1700-1870, p. 52. 

21 "Looking at a recent register of 'active' artillerymen, in order to estimate the financing 
available for new recruits, he [Selim III] found that, of 1,059 troops listed, 33 were wounded, 90 
were assigned to the foundry, 90 to the rapid infantry corps, 76 to the fire Ahmed Cevdet": Tarih, 
1st edn, IV, pp. 265-266. The advisers, of course, were the chief beneficiaries of the corrupted 
muster rolls. 

22 The two main defters (tax registers) are from the Prime Minister's Archives in Istanbul, 
Maliyeden Miidevver MM5970 and MM11786. The payroll (in cash) was carted to the Danube 
battlefront in great caravans of oxcarts and counted when it arrived. 



the largely dysfunctional fighting force was costing the dynasty in wages 
during wartime, and does not take into account the provisioning of that 
same force which was, after all, just a portion of the assembled manpower 
estimated at 100,000 for that war. 23 

Such numbers do not generally include the janissaries assigned to the 
garrisons across the empire. These are the subject of our discussion here, 
as they are the least visible, often melting into the reaya and merchant 
classes and no longer able to be counted on as a fighting force. We have very 
scattered information on the size and distribution of such forces, but a recent 
discussion of the problem gives one rather astonishing figure (from 1761-1762) 
of 55,731 central troops and 141,116 in the garrisons, for a total of 196,847. 24 

Garrison janissaries were normally paid out of the cizye tax, but the 
regiments in each of the garrisons had some autonomy over collection and 
management of their salaries. The ocakkk system (tax farms assigned to 
janissaries and local forces), while not universally applied, was certainly 
in play at the main garrisons in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. 
Tax revenues, such as the cizye, were organized as a tax farm for a particular 
garrison. Initially, it appears that the revenues were controlled by central 
officials and the proceeds were sent for distribution to the regiment in each 
of the garrisons. Latterly, the collection and distribution of the revenues 
appear to have been in the hands of garrison officers or other askeri of- 
ficials. The janissaries and garrison regiments were self-governing, so it 
would be natural for them to acquire a certain fiscal autonomy as well, 
as is abundantly evident in the extant inheritance registers of the askeri 
class. By the end of the eighteenth century, such resources must have been 
considerably stretched, as Ottoman territories on the south shore of the 
Danube became the Russo-Ottoman battlegrounds, and the size of the 
garrisons increased. Belgrade, for example, had 4,917 janissaries in 1771, 
which cost 189,544.5 kuru§ for wages and provisions. The cizyes in that case 
were drawn from fourteen different areas, among them Edirne, Sofia, and 
Thessaloniki; by 1779, there were 6,036 janissaries, whose wages and provi- 
sions cost 240,821.5 kuru§, again paid by cizyes drawn from all over Rumeli. 
Vidin, on the Danube, a true frontier fortress by 1700, had 7,863 janissaries 
in 1771, at a cost of 344,240 kuru§, drawn from nineteen cizye sources. By 
1779, there were 9,229 janissaries in the garrison, costing 416,813 kuru§, and 
the list of the cizye sources had climbed to twenty-five, with many of the 
places showing as unavailable (yok), an effect, no doubt, of the conditions 

23 Aksan, Ottoman Wars, 1700-1870, ch. 4. 

24 Agoston, "Military Transformation in the Ottoman Empire and Russia", p. 304. 



of war. 25 If, in fact, we accept the figure of 5,440 janissaries at Vidin in 1750, 
recorded elsewhere, the evolution from a sipahi-based timariot force to the 
militarized population of janissaries is striking. 26 

By the end of the seventeenth century, the city of Aleppo, as another 
example, contained a large number of rank-and-file soldiers (be§es) engaged 
in all kinds of market crafts and transactions, including small amounts of 
money-lending, tax collection and market enforcement. Charles Wilkins has 
analyzed the ocaklik contracts of garrison members including one set up to 
pay the military unit stationed in the citadels of Kars and Ardahan, some 
considerable distance from Aleppo. Kars soldiers, mostly citadel guards, 
managed their assignments by subcontracting them as tax farms to resi- 
dents of Aleppo, including janissaries and ulema, as a means of increasing 
their diminishing incomes. 

Wilkins concludes that these soldiers could be likened to merchants of 
modest to middling wealth, who show up in the court records as property- 
owners and money-lenders. The career of one Ali ibn Shabib (d. 1678) is 
instructive. He is first encountered in court records in 1640 as second-in- 
command of a local garrison in the Aleppo region, probably of Arab origin, 
already involved in operating (renting) a watermill, and responsible for 
collecting certain fees his regiment owed to officials in the city. By 1657, 
he is still recorded as the second-in-command of the garrison, is listed 
as a tax-collector with the high status rank of agha, but has also become 
a prominent member of the water miller's guild of the city. As Wilkins 
notes, "The likelihood [is] that soldiers, as they took up trades and crafts, 
absorbed the cultural norms of their nonmilitary colleagues, thereby dis- 
placing or weakening concepts of hierarchical command authority. This 
process was probably more important than the reverse, of merchants and 
artisans adopting military norms, since many of these made no pretense 
of pursuing military training and merely sent proxies when called to serve 
on campaigns." 27 

Damascus provides another example of the military diversification 
and expansion. In 1708, the Damacus governor was relieved of sending his 
usual contingent of janissaries (500) to imperial campaigns in exchange 
for charging the local military forces to serve as guardians of the Hajj 
pilgrimage caravans as described above, and sending a sum of money as 
an exemption fee (bedel), one more way the state might raise revenues for 

25 Prime Minister's Archives D.B§M 4274, dated 1185-1193 (1771-1779). 

26 Gradeva, "Between Hinterland and Frontier", pp. 340-341. 

27 Wilkins, Forging Urban Solidarities, p. 197. 



military participation (or lack of it) from the provinces. The Damascus 
military population of the time includedyer//s (local janissaries; elsewhere 
they might be designated as guards); the Kapikulu or imperial janissar- 
ies, ordered to Damascus after a major rebellion of the mid-seventeenth 
century; local mercenaries in the governor's entourage, variously described 
as Anatolian levends, Kurdish musketeers, and North African mercenaries; 
and, finally, the timariot cavalry, which had ceased to exist by the turn of 
the eighteenth century, with their estates likely reassigned to local ayans 
(warlords; provincial notables or elites) or janissaries. It is tantalizing 
to speculate that the mercenary population grew as the timariot/sipahi 
population declined. 28 

That the warrior populations came to be such a large part of actual cam- 
paign forces testifies to the Ottoman difficulties with regulating military 
budgets, recapturing control over the monopoly on violence, and negotiat- 
ing effectively with mobile, warrior subjects. As we have seen, there is 
much allusion to the problem in the literature, and significant work on the 
provincial families and economic factors contributing to their rise after 
1650. Very little empirical work has been published on the size, extent, 
and impact of the new means of mobilizing sufficient manpower for the 
battlefields of the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Janissaries 
consistently failed to show up for major campaigns and, when they did so, 
they clamored for lands vacated by sipahis as a means of support; bands 
of warriors, with regional and occasionally ethnic loyalties, increasingly 
replaced them as military labour. What is discernable in the information 
available to date is a further evolution from diverse, eclectic auxiliaries in 
1700-1750 and the increased reliance on ethnic warrior bands, for example, 
the Albanians, particularly during the first Russo-Ottoman War in 1768- 
1774. The systems (janissary and levends, with the gradual disappearance of 
the sipahis) overlapped and intertwined until 1826 at least. The Ottomans 
moved to a conscript army in the mid-nineteenth century, but ba§ibozuk 
regiments were included as auxiliaries even then. 

Auxiliary cavalry and infantry regiments 1700-1750 

By the late seventeenth century, a provincial governor was expected to 
arrive on campaign accompanied by 200 of his private entourage and 1,000 

28 Uyar and Erickson, A Military History of the Ottomans, p. 108, based on the work of Abdul- 
Karim Rafeq. 


to 2,000 /evercc/recruits, both infantry and cavalry. By the 1720s, these latter 
were paid either by way of tax privileges (imdad-i seferiye, special cam- 
paign taxes and/or cash) for the provincial governor or other local officials 
(called kapi halki); through tax farming; or directly out of the sultan's purse 
(miri Levendat). It was the local officials, in other words, who had become 
military contractors. If statistics are to be believed, this system expanded 
a hundred-fold from the siege ofVienna in 1683 to the first Russo-Ottoman 
campaign of the 1768-1774 war. According to one estimate, 97,000 such 
soldiers participated in the 1769 campaign, meaning perhaps as many as 
100,000-150,000 levends may have initially been mobilized for the campaigns 
on the Danube and the Black Sea. 29 Orders describing how they were to be 
mobilized, both infantry and cavalry, reveal the understanding of the state 
concerning their length of employment and salary, as well where they might 
come from and the problem of control over such troops. 

For example, an order to the governor of the province of Anatolia is 
quite explicit. Beginning with the statement that their misbehaviour was 
the cause of much harm to the countryside, especially as they had not seen 
service and rations due to the lack of campaigns, the order announces 
the coming campaign with Russia, and the urgent need for manpower. It 
continues by extending an amnesty to any miscreants, and emphasizing 
the necessity of gathering them up for the spring offensive. Included in the 
order is the reference to the local provincial officers (mutasarnfs, governors 
of sancaks, subdivisions of a province) as responsible for the organization 
of the provincial troops. 

Such orders were usually for companies (boliiks) of fifty levends. Spelled 
out were the monthly salary, expressed in six months' lump sums, or in 
two months for an extension, for passage to the battlefront, for fortress 
duty, etc.; a signing-on bonus (called a bah§i§, an incentive); a 10 per cent 
commission for the officers; and a calculation oiyevmiye, or daily rations. 
Except for their temporary status, these soldiers on paper were being treated 
in ways which approximated the janissaries. Exhortations were included 
that recruits be upright, handsome Muslims, and that they be guaranteed 
by their local communities, who would serve as their guarantors in the case 
of desertion. Local officials were responsible for the selection of officers 
(and often served in that capacity). There is no mention of arms in these 
documents, so one presumes that these recruits were to bring their own 
weapons, perhaps part of the explanation for the hefty signing-on bonus 

29 Aksan, "Whatever Happened to the Janissaries?", p. 29, "Ottoman Military Recruitment 
Strategies in the Late Eighteenth Century". 



of 12 kuru§ for an infantryman and 25 for a horseman, the difference likely 
to do with the possession of a horse. Monthly salaries ran at 2.5 kuru§. 
Equally interesting is the inclusion in these documents of expected rations. 
The Levend infantryman at war was expected to need a daily intake of a 
double loaf of bread (100 dirhem or roughly 320 g), or 50 dirhem of biscuit 
(peksimed 160 g), and was allowed half an okka of meat (641 g); a half kite 
(12-13 kg) of fodder barley for the packhorses of fifty men. The cavalryman 
was entitled to the same amount of bread, but only 100 dirhem (320 g) of 
meat, and additionally 100 dirhem of rice (320 g), 25 dirhem (80 g) of cooking 
oil or fat, and a yem of barley, roughly 6.5 kg per day per man. 

In reality, most of this must have remained highly hypothetical, as the 
provisioning system for the campaign of 1769 broke down completely. 
Evidence at least of one effort to recruit such state commissioned regiments 
provides us with a good indication of the difference between expectations 
and reality. Historian § emidanizade, serving as a judge in Tokat, in Anatolia, 
in 1771, was required to enlist 1,500 soldiers (he calls them janissaries, but 
they must have been levends) to be sent to Ochakov on the Black Sea. He 
picked 1,500 of 6,000 volunteers, rejectingboth young and old, and organized 
some 1,500 for the battlefront. He later encountered some of the same troops 
in Sinop, and discovered that each company (of fifty) had been reduced to 
eleven men and a commander. He was told that the Tokat governor had 
excused the men from service for a payment of 25 kuru§ (the signing-on 
bonus given the men?), which they split and pocketed. 30 

On the battlefront in 1769, Ahmed Resmi observed the arrival of the 
troops from Anatolia. Clearly, he noted, the provincial governors recruited 
thieves and the homeless and then were held captive by them - at every 
hamlet or bridge-crossing, the men demanded salaries and bonuses and 
caused no end of trouble in the camp. While individual commanders arrived 
with enough men for a battalion, in three days, they could not raise even 
100 men. And even should the commanders bring the requested 500 or 1,000 
men, they continued to demand pay and rations for any participation in the 
war effort, and tended to wreak havoc on the countryside when left idle, 
especially as fodder and food became scarce. 31 

The reliability and loyalty of such troops were obviously acute problems, 
as determined by the financial stability and disciplinary control of the state, 
and whether it was able (or willing) to redistribute provincial revenues 
for the benefit of local officials. By 1775, the term Levend had assumed 

30 Aksan, "Whatever Happened to the Janissaries?", pp. 31-33. 

31 Ibid., pp. 34-35. 


such disrepute that it was expunged from the official vocabulary of the 
Ottoman documents but, as with other such labels, the term persisted into 
the nineteenth century. Other terms began to emerge, such as the older 
sekban, deli, and ba§ibozuk, which very often signified ethnic warrior bands. 

Ethnic warrior bands 1750-1850 

That is not to suggest that bands of levends could not just as well have 
been organized as local, ethnic, or regional companies. It is simply that the 
mobile populations discussed above start to appear in large numbers in 
the documentation after the 1770s as warrior ethnic groups such as Kurds, 
Albanians, and Circassians. While the levends, volunteer military labor, 
still have a whiff of the coerced about them, these warrior bands emerge 
as entirely autonomous guns-for-hire, like Mustafa Vasfi of Kabud cited at 
the beginning of this chapter, and are labeled with their ethnicity in an 
era when nationalism had begun to emerge as part of regional identities. 

The first significant use of such warrior bands show up in the Morea 
Rebellion of 1770, when unrest and Russian instigation, along with the 
demands of the ongoing war, triggered a violent rebellion of the Greek 
Orthodox population of the Morea. The Peloponnese was yet another of 
the militarized frontiers I have described above, especially since it had 
been recovered by the Ottomans only in 1715. Vlachopoulou describes the 
emergence of a local class of Christian officials, the kocaba§is, who both 
collaborated and contested with the officials of the new government and 
with the increased presence of the askeri class. 3 * The state records of this 
period indicate considerable unrest and a lack of stability around resources 
and tax-collection, much as we have seen elsewhere. In 1770, then Morean 
governor Muhsinzade Mehmed, charged with putting down the rebel- 
lion of the Greeks, hired levends, most of who turned out to be Albanians 
previously destined for the Danube battlefront. Some 10,000-20,000 troops 
obviously disturbed the demographics of the peninsula, but also proved to 
be a disaster as, once they had brutally suppressed the revolt, they refused to 
leave and entered the contestation over local property and other resources. 
Muhsinzade Mehmed is said to have recruited some 75,000 troops from 
what Nagata calls mahalli kuvvetleri, or regional forces, to quell the revolt, 

32 Vlachopoulou, "Like the Mafia?" 



and he did so by taking loans from the regional notables, which he officially 
recognized as ayans. 33 

The 1787-1792 Russo-Ottoman war saw an increased use of such regional, 
contractual forces because the central janissaries were simply not prepared 
to fight. For the 1790-1791 season, for example, Selim III reputedly could 
find only 6,000 combat-ready janissaries out of a reputed 30,000 in the 
city, and of those only 1,000 made it to the battlefront. The rest fled within 
a day's march of Istanbul. The payroll records were packed with retirees 
and noncombatants, some 50,000 or more even after Selim Ill's experiment 
with creating new troops, assembling perhaps 10,000 before the rebellion in 
1807 which removed him from the throne. Quite apart from the fraudulent 
records, the janissaries had legitimate complaints about arrears in their own 
pay, about the higher salaries given to the new troops, about the conditions 
of the barracks, about the insufficiency of their rations, and about the state 
of the bread specially baked for the corps. 34 

Meanwhile, on the Danube, the blending of peasant and soldier con- 
tinued apace, particularly during the 1787-1792 war. Demographic shifts, 
occurring multiple times in the long Habsburg-Ottoman-Russian struggles 
along the frontiers, had seriously altered the landscape of the Ottoman 
borderlands, and created large numbers of landless and masterless men 
as previously described. Serbian Orthodox peasants crossed into newly 
defined Habsburg territories. Tatars and Circassians, chased from Crimea, 
moved into Romania and Bulgaria in the 1780s following the Russian uni- 
lateral occupation of the former Ottoman territories, joining the janissaries 
already mentioned, who were in effect "coming home" after a hundred years 
of service in Hungary. 

Selim III had little choice but to make use of such readily available 
manpower for the battlefields of 1787-1793. He called upon the provincial 
power-brokers, such as Yanyah Ali Pasa (of Iannina, Greece), Pasvantoglu 
Osman Pasa (of Vidin), and Alemdar Mustafa Pasa (of Ruse, Bulgaria), to 
name but three, to defend the borders with their sekbans, the word which 
replaced levend. After peace was declared with Russia and Austria, these 
same locally raised armies were called upon to put down Pasvantoglu's 
ongoing bid for self-government in Vidin on three separate occasions, all 
of which failed. Pasvantoglu died in his bed in 1807. 

33 Nagata, Muhsinzade Mehmed Pa§a ve Ayanlik Muessessi. The Albanians (Shkiptar) here 
described were likely Tosks of the mountainous region of Albania. 

34 Sunar, "Ocak-i Amire'den Ocak-i Mulga'ya Dogru". 


Tolga Esmer has vividly described the culture of anarchy and banditry 
- which had sekbans becoming kirca'alis (a place name that came to refer 
to particular bandits) and back to sekbans - that dominated the frontier 
from the 1750s onward. "[T]he borderlands allowed for new, alternative ways 
of making a living that spread like a contagion, eventually luring anyone 
from the humblest Rumeli Christians to the highest vezir from Istanbul and 
Anatolia into Rumeli and into the networks of violence [...]" 35 

However one interprets the ethnicity of these troops, and fixes their date 
of origin, the important aspect is that they are ubiquitous beginning in the 
Greek rebellion period (1821-1831). First and foremost, Mehmed Ali of Egypt 
derives from that context, and it was his own Albanian troops, sent to Cairo 
in the Ottoman fight against Napoleon, who helped raise him to power in 
Cairo in the contest with the last of the mamluks.Jezzar Ahmed Pasa, com- 
mander of the fortress of Acre, of Bosnian background and mamluk (Cairo) 
experience, was known for employing only foreign troops, and regularly 
hired, for multiple campaigns, mercenaries from the Maghreb, Albanian 
cavalry, and Bosnian infantry, as well as delis, who have been described as 
Kurds or Turkmen. He paid them well and with his army (perhaps as many 
as 4,000-5,000 troops of mixed origins) he successfully defended Napoleon s 
assault on Acre as ally of the British. In cooperation with the imperial army 
that marched overland from Istanbul to Cairo in 1799-1801, Jezzar sent 
detachments of 500 Albanians from time to time to the imperial camp at 
Jaffa. William Wittmann, eyewitness to the British-Ottoman campaign 
to oust Napoleon's remaining troops from Egypt, observed their comings 
and goings, commenting on how often the Albanians mutinied when the 
grand vizier tried to muster them, and how they frequently deserted. He 
notes particularly the ongoing quarrels between the Albanians and the 
janissaries, still very numerous, but impossible to recognize as the troops 
of old in a campaign which also introduced the first of Selim IIEs reformed 
troops. 36 

The later extensive revolts of the Albanians derived, as suggested above, 
from the simultaneous effort to draw them into a recentralized state and 
conscript them for battles between Mahmud II and Mehmed Ali of Egypt. 
A final example of the persistence of the ethnic-band mentality and volun- 
teerism is evident in documentation around the 1828-1829 Russo-Ottoman 
War where discussion among military planners indicates the ongoing 

35 Esmer, "A Culture of Rebellion", p. 75. 

36 Wittman, Travels in Turkey, Asia Minor, Syria and Across the Desert into Egypt during the 
Years 1799, 1800 and 1801, pp. 141-149. 



difficulties of enrolling the Albanian Tosks in particular, of making them 
wear uniforms and of getting them to enlist either in the regular army or 
as basibozuks. The many Albanian rebellions of the period are evidence of 
a resistance not just to the Ottoman effort to "colonize" them but also to 
the attempt to force them into a disciplined military environment. To what 
extent they might also have been national uprisings belongs to another 
discussion, but it is easy to see how the requirements of the besieged state 
and the last warrior populations of the Ottoman frontiers were inimical. 37 

The Fighting for a Living template 

The Ottomans seemingly evolved from a slave/standing army/state com- 
mission army to an aggregate contract to a conscript army. Can we assume 
that the countryside at large participated willingly (to the degree that that 
word can be allowed in early modern societies) in the war efforts, until the 
worsening of the economic capacity of the Ottomans to promulgate war 
made participation dangerous and unprofitable? So what made these bands 
continue to sign on? 

Of our possible permutations for this project, I believe it is the entrepre- 
neurial aspects, that is, the emergence of the world market economy in the 
seventeenth century, which drew much of the participation in this context. 
I think the Ottoman demand for manpower, and the easily accessible (and 
willing) labour market as the empire drew inwards are determinants of 
some of the policies and the behavior we can see. The records indicate that 
they were paid - in cash - or with rights to the tax revenues of the state, 
and found little to deter them from plundering their enemies or even their 

To the list of our hypotheses for the emergence and dominance of state- 
supported militias and warrior-band recruits in the period 1650-1850, 1 need 
to add another: because it was already a way of life which increased dramati- 
cally with the shifting populations and worsening economic conditions of 
the late seventeenth and early eighteenth century. The political households 
that emerged were strengthened themselves by the system and reluctant to 
surrender whatever support (tax farms, extraordinary campaign taxes, and 
other privileges) that came with the military "contracts". In other words, the 

37 Aksan, Ottoman Wars, 7700-7870, pp. 352-356; Anscombe, "Islam and the Age of Ottoman 
Reform"; Hakan Erdem discusses the thinking of the Ottoman commanders about how to engage 
Albanian chiefs and their soldiers in '"Perfidious Albanians' and 'Zealous Governors'". 


Ottoman need for manpower not only facilitated the emergence of powerful 
provincial notables, it also sanctioned the flourishing of a style of life for 
the individual warrior/soldier that persisted into the twentieth century. 

I will leave you with a quote from a recent study of the early nineteenth- 
century Greek/Albanian context. Lack of Ottoman systemic control over 
that region produced a particularly strong paramilitary culture, as we have 
seen, where "the development of strong patron-client relations seemed 
the only socio-political mechanism left for survival. Hence, despite their 
shortcomings as far as the maltreatment of the Greek peasants is concerned, 
men who bore arms in such difficult times were highly respected by the 
agrarian population." 38 

In sum, post-1650 Ottoman military failures were largely administrative, 
not technological, and not so much organizational as economic. Just as 
Europe moved to social discipline and uniformity of its military forces, 
incorporating "native" troops in regimental fashion, the Ottomans went 
native, and came to rely on a federative, mercenary, or paramilitary force 
for the maintenance of its remaining territories on the Danube and in 
Greater Syria. 

38 Karabelias, "From National Heroes to National Villains", p. 266. 

Military employment in Qing dynasty 

Christine Moll-Murata and Ulrich Theobald 

This chapter explores the military structures in China between 1650 and 
1900 from the perspective of labour history as devised by the Global Col- 
laboratory on the History of Labour Relations 1500-2000. It will first present 
the basic structures of the Qing armies. There follows a discussion of the 
state of the art in research and the major issues and debates in this field. 
Finally, the authors assess trends and tendencies in the framework of the 
matrix of hypotheses developed within the research group Fighting for a 

The Qing armies, 1600-1911: a short overview 

The Manchu Qing dynasty ruled China between 1644 and 1911. It originated 
from semi-nomadic groups of the Jurchen confederation who lived scattered 
across the today's north-eastern Chinese provinces of Liaoning, Jilin, and 
Heilongjiang. These groups defined themselves as ethnically and cultur- 
ally distinct from their mighty numerous, and affluent neighbours in the 
south-west, the Chinese or "Han", and began to refer to themselves as "Man" 
or "Manchus". 1 After 1600, their unifier, Nurhaci (1559-1626), organized his 
followers into socio-military units or companies. Family members and 
dependants were also registered in the military households. As far as our 
knowledge goes, "followers" implies the entire population that had pledged 
allegiance to Nurhaci, voluntarily or by force. In 1615, these companies were 
officially divided into the so-called Eight Banners. Not only the Manchus 
were grouped into these formations, but also Mongols, Koreans, and Chinese 
who had either lived in the areas north of the Great Wall or had submitted 
to the Manchus before they started their conquest of China proper in 1644. 
In 1635, Nurhaci's son and successor Hong Taiji (r. 1626-1643) divided the 
Banners along ethnic lines, with a Manchu, a Mongol, and a Chinese (the 
latter also called the "Chinese-martial") Banner assigned to each of the 

1 On the fluid and "inherently transactional" concept of ethnicity, see Elliott, The Manchu 
Way, p. 17. 



eight, resulting in an actual number of twenty-four Banners. The Banners 
were assigned different colours, according to the flags and uniforms they 
carried into and wore during battle. Their organization was dissolved only 
after the fall of the Qing dynasty in 1912. 

Precise and factual figures are unavailable and are subject to much recent 
debate. Roughly speaking, the estimates for the entire Banner population, 
including men, women, children, elderly, and dependants (bondservants 
and slaves) z range between 1.3 million and 2.4 million in 1648, and 2.6 
million to 4.9 million in 1720. The potential combat forces, that is, the entire 
male population between the ages of ten and sixty, may have been between 
300,000 and 500,000 in 1648, and 850,000 to 1.6 million in 1720. However, 
according to one source, only one in three men in a military company 
actually engaged in combat. 3 The number of companies has been estimated 
as slowly increasing from some 200 in 1614, to around 500 at the time of 
the completion of the conquest and assumption of rule over the previous 
Ming Empire (1368-1644), and 1,155 by 1735. 4 A competing estimate that 
assumes the higher figures of companies given in the Qing statutes, 320 
Manchu, 131 Mongol, and 171 Chinese Banner companies in 1644, arrives at 
a total of 168,600 men, which ca